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500 People May Have Died In Latest Boat Sinking, U.N. Refugee Agency Says

A large boat that sank in the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Italy may have been carrying as many as 500 people who lost their lives, according to a U.N. Refugee Agency team that spoke to survivors of the sinking.

It would be one of the worst catastrophes suffered by refugees and migrants in the past year, if officials are able to confirm details provided by the 41 survivors.

"They told UNHCR that they had sailed on a boat with up to 200 people who left from the Libyan coast last week," Joanna Kakissis reports for our Newscast unit. "Then, in the open sea, smugglers began to move them to a larger ship that was severely crowded. This ship sank — with hundreds aboard."

The survivors comprise 37 men, three women and a child, age 3, the U.N. agency says in a bulletin about the sinking. It said the survivors – more than half of them from Somalia, and the rest from Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan – were rescued after drifting on the sea for three days. On April 16, they were taken to Kalamata, in the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece.

According to the refugee agency, "So far this year 179,552 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea across the Mediterranean and Aegean. At least 761 have died or gone missing attempting the journey."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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