Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is to hold urgent talks with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi today following the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean which left hundreds of migrants dead.

Reports indicated that a large fishing boat was carrying between 600 and 700 migrants when it capsized 120 miles south of Lampedusa on Saturday-Sunday night, but a Bangladeshi survivor reportedly told the Italian authorities there were 900 on board. He said some of them had been locked int the boat’s hold by the people smugglers.

Eighteen units of the Italian Navy, merchant ships and two Maltese patrol boats are continuing their search for possible survivors.

Prime Minister Renzi told a press conference that 28 survivors and 24 dead people had been picked up.

The small numbers make more sense if hundreds of people were locked in the hold, because with so much weight down below, “surely the boat would have sunk,” said General Antonino Iraso, of the Italian Border Police, which has deployed boats in the operation.

Prosecutor Giovanni Salvi said a survivor from Bangladesh described the situation on the fishing boat to prosecutors who interviewed him in a hospital. The man said about 300 people were in the hold when the fishing boat overturned, and that about 200 women and dozens of children also were on board.

Mr Salvi stressed that there was no confirmation yet of the man’s account and that the investigation was ongoing.

Mr Iraso said the sea in the area is too deep for divers, suggesting that the final toll may never be known.

“How can it be that we daily are witnessing a tragedy?” asked Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, who met with his top ministers ahead of tomorrow’s European Union meeting in Luxembourg, where foreign ministers have added the issue of migrants to their agenda.

Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela said an Italian vessel carrying the survivors and the corpses will be coming to Malta. It will arrive early this morning. The corpses will be carried ashore and the vessel will then take the survivors to Italy.

Dr Muscat is to meet Mr Renzi in Rome before an urgent EU foreign ministers’ meeting which will be held in Luxembourg

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