UK & World News
Migrants 'Caught In Firefight' Before Sinking
Syrians rescued after their overcrowded boat sunk near Malta on Friday say they were fired upon by trafficking gangs as they left Libya.
Thirty-one people died and at least 200 more were rescued in the disaster, a week after a migrant boat capsized in the same area which left 369 migrants dead.
Survivor Molhake Al Roarsan, 22, told newspaper La Stampa that three people were shot in the arms and legs in what he thought was a dispute between trafficking groups.
"There was a furious fight, screaming on the radio and on the phone with someone who demanded we return to land, but the captain did not stop," he said.
La Repubblica newspaper claimed the shots were fired by a "Libyan patrol which is probably part of a criminal gang".
Citing interviews with survivors, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees spoke of "several injured passengers", after shots were fired "perhaps by militiamen who shot to kill".
News agency Ansa said witnesses reported that two people had been killed during the shootings.
"They were shooting in all directions, on board there was panic with people trying to protect each other," one of the survivors said.
Once they reached Malta, the Tunisian captain was arrested after being recognised by survivors, according to reports.
Those who attempted the journey were mostly Syrians who reportedly paid traffickers $1,000 (£630) each.
Malta's prime minister, who earlier this week warned the Mediterannean was becoming a "cemetery" for migrants, is visiting Libya to discuss the issue.
Some 30,100 migrants arrived in Italy and Malta in the first nine months of 2013, compared with 15,000 in all of 2012, according to the UN refugee agency.
Italy's prime minister said additional naval patrols would begin on Monday in an attempt to tackle the problem.
"This operation will be an Italian military and humanitarian task force. A joint Navy and Air Force operation.
"This operation is needed in order to guarantee that the Mediterranean sea can become a safer sea, especially since the Mediterranean has become a grave these last few days."