Around 300 migrants are thought to have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said Wednesday.
The incident happened off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Survivors coming ashore Wednesday reported that four rubber boats attempted to make the journey to Europe from Libya in frigid temperatures.
Carlotta Sami, the UNHCR’s spokeswoman in Italy, said at least 203 people had been “swallowed up by the waves,” the youngest aged 12. However, the agency said that if all four boats are confirmed missing the death toll may surpass 300.
At least 29 people died from hypothermia Monday off Lampedusa — which is about 70 miles from Tunisia — in what the UNHCR said was the first major maritime loss of life this year. They too were travelling from north Africa to Italy.