A boat transporting migrants arrives in the port of Messina after a rescue operation at see on April 18, 2015 in Sicily. AFP PHOTO / GIOVANNI ISOLINO
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As many as 700 people were feared dead after a fishing boat packed with migrants capsized off the Libyan coast overnight, in what may be one of the worst disasters of the Mediterranean migrant crisis, officials said Sunday.The boat is believed to have capsized when the migrants shifted to one side of the overcrowded vessel as a merchant ship approached.The lawless state of Libya, following the toppling of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has left criminal gangs of migrant smugglers a free hand to send a stream of boats carrying desperate migrants from Africa and the Middle East.Around 20,000 migrants have reached the Italian coast this year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates. In 2013, the previous government initiated the search-and-rescue operation "Mare Nostrum" or "Our Sea" after hundreds drowned in an incident off the coast of Lampedusa. The operation was cancelled last year, because of the cost and because some politicians said it encouraged migrants to depart by raising their hopes of being rescued.
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