• Up to 700 people are feared dead after boat capsizes in Mediterranean
  • Boat carrying migrants sank off the Libyan coast just after midnight
  • Just 28 people have been saved and rescue operation continues
  • Third major shipwreck involving migrants trying to cross sea this week 

Sara Malm for MailOnline

As many as 700 people are feared
dead after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean sea overnight.

So far, 28 people have been rescued following the incident, which took place just off the Libyan coast just after midnight, Italian and Maltese coast guards report. 

The boat, believed to have been carrying more than 700 African migrants, went down after passengers moved to one side of the vessel to signal to a passing merchant ship, and it overturned.

Scroll down for video 

Disaster: So far, only 28 people have been rescued following the incident, which took place 17miles off the Libyan coast, and up to 700 African migrants are feared dead. Pictured is migrants arriving in Sicily

Disaster: So far, only 28 people have been rescued following the incident, which took place 17miles off the Libyan coast, and up to 700 African migrants are feared dead. Pictured is migrants arriving in Sicily

The overnight disaster is follows the feared drowning of more than 400 migrants in two shipwrecks on the Mediterranean earlier this week.  

So far, 10,000 migrants have been rescued by the Italian coast guard, navy and merchant vessels this week – an unprecedented number.

The influx of migrants, mainly from Africa attempting to cross the sea from Libya, is putting pressure on Italy’s shelter system and raising calls for a better response to the emergency.

A rescue operation is still underway in the hopes of rescuing more people from the midnight sinking off the Libyan coast, 120 miles south of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.

The boat had send out an emergency call after having trouble with steering the vessel, and a Portuguese merchant ship arrived at the scene.

This is the third major shipwreck involving migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean this week, and a further 400 migrants are feared to have drowned in the other incidents

This is the third major shipwreck involving migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean this week, and a further 400 migrants are feared to have drowned in the other incidents

However, as it approached, dozens of people moved from one side of the vessel to the other, and it capsized, Italian news bureau Ansa reports. 

‘At the moment, we fear that this is a tragedy of really vast proportions,’ Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told SkyTG24 television. 

‘The first details came from one of the survivors who spoke English and who said that at least 700 people, if not more, were on board. 

‘The boat capsized because people moved to one side when another boat approached that they hoped would rescue them,’ Sami said.

Yesterday, the International Organization for Migration said the rate of migrant and refugee deaths this year is ten times higher than in 2014, even though the number of those who made it across safely is about the same. 

The agency put arrivals so far this year in Italy through Thursday at 21,191. That compares with 26,644 for the first four months of last year.

‘This is unacceptable,’ said Federico Soda, director of the IOM coordination office for the Mediterranean, calling for more intensive search and rescue efforts. ‘This is a humanitarian emergency that involves us all.’

Greece, the EU’s second-biggest gateway for migrants after Italy, appealed to its European Union partners Friday for more help in policing its sea borders as immigrants increasingly make dangerous journeys to escape war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

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