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Summary

  1. Hundreds of people feared to have drowned after a boat carrying up to 700 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea
  2. Major rescue operation ongoing after the vessel capsized in Libyan waters south of Italy's island of Lampedusa
  3. Italian ships, the Maltese Navy and commercial vessels are all involved in the rescue operation
  4. If confirmed, it would be the biggest migrant tragedy to have taken place in the Mediterranean in recent times

Live Reporting

By Yaroslav Lukov, Lauren Turner, Roland Hughes and Mario Cacciottolo

All times stated are UK

  1. Post update

    This brings to an end our live coverage of the disaster in the Mediterranean, where a huge rescue operation is continuing into the night after a boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized.

    Italian officials say 28 people have been rescued and 24 bodies have been recovered, amid fears that hundreds of others have drowned.

    Thanks for following our coverage. You can still follow all the latest developments on the BBC News website.

  2. Renzi's plea

    More from Italian PM Matteo Renzi's news conference.

    He says: "What we're asking for is not to be left alone. Not just in this emergency at sea, because in these situations the sea is always a horrible beast.

    "This is a political issue, with a capital 'P'. It's an issue of human dignity, rather than of national security, to block this trade in human beings."

  3. Post update

    Maltese PM Joseph Muscat

    tweets: "#Malta to take around 30 bodies recovered so far. #Italy navy ship to call in next few hrs. Survivors will move on to Italy for inquiry."

  4. 'Non-stopping issue'

    Manu Moncada of Medecins Sans Frontieres

    Manu Moncada, Medecins Sans Frontieres' operations co-ordinator for migrations, tells BBC World News TV channel that more work needs to be done in the area to deal with the problem.

    He says: "This is a non-stopping issue.

    "We are really asking for scaling up of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea."

    Mr Moncada adds that MSF has repeatedly urged Italy and the EU as a whole to urgently step up efforts.

  5. Rescue operation

    Yolande Knell

    BBC News, Catania, Sicily

    says that 20 ships and three helicopters are involved in the ongoing search and rescue operation.

  6. More UK political reaction

    Labour leader Ed Miliband says on Twitter: "Those dying in the Mediterranean are some of the poorest men, women and children in the world. We must act to stop these awful scenes."

    Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says the EU should "review entirely the arrangements that are in place because we just cannot, on moral grounds, have such large numbers of people dying in such regular intervals in the Mediterranean."

    Meanwhile, UKIP leader Nigel Farage says the decision by Britain and France to bomb Libya had destabilised the country, leading to the refugee crisis. He adds: "I'm the one person who has said that I do think, especially for Christians in that part of the world, they now have almost nowhere to go."

  7. 'Machinery hard to get going'

    Elizabeth Collett, director of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute think tank, tells BBC World News: "The EU is a machinery that is hard to get going."

    She adds that any proposals to change its border protection programmes would take time to implement.

  8. 'Comprehensive response'

    Philip Hammond

    UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says: "Stopping this needless suffering is a huge international challenge which demands a comprehensive, co-ordinated response.

    "We must target the traffickers who are responsible for so many people dying at sea and prevent their innocent victims from being tricked or forced into making these perilous journeys."

    He says he will discuss the way forward with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday.

  9. Italian coastguard update

    The Italian coastguard says on Twitter the situation, as of 18:30 local time (17:30 UK), remains that 28 people have been rescued and 24 bodies recovered.

  10. 'Europe as a whole must rise up'

    Archbishop of Canterbury

    The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said all European and Mediterranean countries have to take responsibility for dealing with the problem.

    Speaking to BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet, he said: "When people are drowning in the Mediterranean, the need, the misery that has driven them out of their own countries, is so extreme, so appalling, that Europe as a whole must rise up, and seek to do what is right.

    "It will be demanding, and that's why the burden must be spread across the continent, and not taken by just one country or one area."

  11. Post update

    Maltese PM Joseph Muscat

    tweets: "I will meet @matteorenzi tomorrow in Rome to coordinate way forward."

  12. Marine traffic latest

    Marinetraffic screenshot

    Here is the latest data on live vessel positions in the disaster area from MarineTraffic - to give you some sense of the scale of the search and rescue operation under way.

  13. Do 'everything it takes'

    The Italian leader adds that Europe is facing a serious problem and has to do "everything it takes" to solve it, Mr Renzi adds.

  14. 'Prevent them from leaving'

    Mr Renzi says "these brothers and sisters of ours who have died in the Mediterranean Sea" cannot be saved simply by checking ships, "but by preventing them from leaving and being subject to this slave trade".

  15. 'New slave trade'

    Matteo Renzi

    Mr Renzi says it is not yet known how many lives have been lost in the latest disaster. He also stresses that Italy wants to call an EU meeting on the issue, describing it as a "scourge" in the continent and a "new slave trade".

    He sent condolences to the families of the victims and thanked those involved in the rescue effort.

  16. Post update

    Ariadne Massa, Times of Malta

    tweets: MEP @RobertaMetsola: "Two years after Lampedusa #migrant tragedy the Med remains a cemetery. EU has to act." #malta #Italy #libya"

  17. Post update

    Gerry Simpson, Human Rights Watch

    tweets: "As 700 more boat #migrants die-average 15 a day in 2015-#EU should launch crisis response @HRW http://bit.ly/1OtOJyt"

  18. Post update

    Donald Tusk, President of the European Council

    tweets: "Talked to PM Muscat after tragic deaths in Mediterranean. Will continue talks w/ EU leaders, Commission & EEAS on how to alleviate situation."

  19. Scale of journey

    The BBC's Richard Bilton - who has travelled south of the Italian island of Lampedusa - explains the scale of the journey migrants from Africa and the Middle East face each year.

  20. 'Spur into action'

    The Economist asks why migrants crossing the Mediterranean are "dying this year at an unprecedented rate" - and what can be done.

    It says: "The European Union's response so far has been remarkably languid. The latest disaster may at last spur it into action."

  21. Post update

    Richard Galpin

    BBC World Affairs correspondent

    says: "A European Commission official confirmed to me that one idea which has been suggested as they draw up plans for a new comprehensive migration policy is to set up camps in North Africa where migrants can be assessed to see if they have a legitimate claim for asylum.

    "At the moment all this is done in EU countries after the migrants arrive from North Africa.

    "The official said several EU member states had suggested this but there had been no decision on it so far."

  22. Survivors on merchant ship

    Italy's Ansa news agency reports that 22 of the survivors are now on board the Portuguese merchant ship King Jacob that was in the area when the boat capsized (See 15:34 entry).

    Another six survivors are on Italy's Gregoretti coastguard ship, a Navy vessel, and a merchant boat.

  23. Post update

    BBC's Tom Donkin

    tweets: "Hard to verify but if we add victims from last night to those who died since the start of 2015 - total is around 1,600."

  24. 'Insufficient' operation

    Laurens Jolles, UNHCR's representative for Southern Europe, tells APTN television that the current EU border patrol operation is insufficient.

    "The [Italian] coastguard with this small capacity that they have are doing whatever they can to rescue lives, going very very close to Libya, if necessary, and working non-stop day and night," he says.

    "But it is clear that they need help... there has to be something else put in place in the European context and that really needs to happen."

  25. Post update

    Richard Galpin

    BBC World Affairs correspondent

    says: "It is estimated 1,500 migrants have died already this year making the crossing from North Africa to the shores of Europe - most of them drowning over the past week.

    "The warmer weather is encouraging much larger numbers to take to the sea."

  26. Post update

    Katya Adler

    BBC Europe editor

    tweets: "After accusations of complacency, the #EU Commission is rushing out press releases on the migrant tragedy in the #Mediterranean."

  27. Rescue vessel

    King Jacob Portuguese cargo vessel

    This is an image taken earlier this week of the King Jacob Portuguese cargo vessel, the first ship to arrive near the migrant boat before it capsized.

  28. Author's view

    The Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri - author of the popular Montalbano detective novels - tweets (in Italian): "Right now, we don't need the populism of Beppe Grillo, Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini, but the help of the EU."

  29. Duty and responsibility

    EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says the EU must tackle such tragedies without delay.

    "We need to save human lives all together, as all together we need to protect our borders and to fight the trafficking of human beings.

    "Every single day, we have the duty to save human lives, sharing among all the 28 this duty and a responsibility that for too long has been left only to the southern countries."

  30. 'Naval blockade'

    The leader of Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, calls for a naval blockade of the coast of Libya.

    Mr Salvini writes on his Facebook page: "The friends of Mare Nostrum have blood on their hands... [We need] an immediate naval blockade of the Libyan coast!"

  31. First images

    These are the first images to be published of the search and rescue operation, and were released by Italy's coastguard service.

    A video grab released by the Italian Coast Guards (Guardia Costiera) on April 19, 2015 showing an helicopter and a ship take part in a rescue operation off the coast of Sicily
    A video grab released by the Italian Coast Guards (Guardia Costiera) on April 19, 2015 showing an helicopter and a ship take part in a rescue operation off the coast of Sicily
    A video grab released by the Italian Coast Guards (Guardia Costiera) on April 19, 2015 showing an helicopter and a ship take part in a rescue operation off the coast of Sicily
  32. Latest figures

    Here is the latest information we have so far. At least 650 migrants are feared to have drowned after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya, with some reports saying about 50 people have been rescued.

  33. 'Never again'

    Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, said the spate of migrant boat sinkings was "unacceptable".

    She said: "We have said too many times 'never again'. Now is time for the European Union as such to tackle these tragedies without delay."

  34. Italy's efforts

    Coastguards co-ordinate the search for Libyan migrants in Rome - April 19, 2015
    Coastguards co-ordinate the search for Libyan migrants in Rome - April 19, 2015

    Even though the search and rescue operation is taking place some 17 miles (27 kilometres) from Libya's coastline, Italy's coastguard is co-ordinating the efforts from its headquarters in Rome. Maltese and Italian ships, as well as merchant vessels, are also taking part in the search effort.

  35. 'The reality is stark'

    More on the emergency meeting of ministers called by the European Union. The European Commission said foreign and interior ministers would be involved. A date is yet to be set for the meeting.

    It said in a statement: "The reality is stark and our actions must therefore be bold. These are human lives at stake, and the European Union as a whole has a moral and humanitarian obligation to act."

  36. Hazardous journeys

    The BBC's James Reynolds reported this week on the plight of migrants making highly-dangerous journeys to Italy. You can see his report here.

  37. Post update

    Mark Micallef, chief journalist at the Times of Malta

    tweets: "Just for the record today's #migrant tragedy will be the worst tragedy at sea since WWII. #NoMoreDeathInTheMed."

  38. The Triton plan

    Migrants sit in a boat during a rescue operation on April 15, 2015 off the coast of Sicily as part of the Triton plan
    Image caption: A rescue operation took place off the coast of Sicily on 15 April as part of the Triton plan

    The surveillance programme now in place is Triton - which operates with less than a third of Mare Nostrum's budget. It is run by the EU's border agency and has a remit to patrol only Italian and Maltese waters.

    It has helicopters, two aircraft and patrol boats available, and helped rescue 22,300 people between November 2014 and February 2015. But much of the criticism after today's tragedy has focused on the limited remit of Triton.

  39. How rescues have changed

    The rescue of migrants as part of Operation Mare Nostrum - 25 April 2014
    Image caption: Migrants being rescued in April 2014 as part of Operation Mare Nostrum

    Back in October 2013, after an earlier tragedy near Lampedusa, Italy's government launched Mare Nostrum - a programme with a 9.5m euro ($10.3m) monthly budget that monitored large parts of the Mediterranean.

    Equipped with a thousand-strong staff, drones and helicopters, Mare Nostrum helped save 113,000 people in a year and led to the arrest of 500 human traffickers. But Mare Nostrum is no more.

  40. Post update

    Owen Bonnici, Maltese minister for justice, culture and local government

    tweets: "EU Ministers to meet over potentially the greatest tragedy which has happened in the Mediterranean in recent years. Proactive Malta."

  41. 'Deadliest waters in the world'

    Richard Bilton

    Lampedusa

    On a boat far from land, the seas are calm and the wind light in the waters south of the tiny island of Lampedusa.

    It is in these calm conditions that traffickers in Libya launch the migrant boats.

    These are the deadliest waters in the world where thousands are dying.

    As our boat rises and falls gently on the waves, what strikes you is the vastness of the water. It may look a short stretch of sea on a map.

    But the gap between the coast of Libya and a new life in Europe is an enormous dangerous empty stretch of water with nothing from horizon to horizon.

  42. Special meeting

    Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi addresses guests during the inauguration of the Malta-Italy Interconnector in Maghtab, outside Valletta, April 9, 2015

    Italy's Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, has travelled back to Rome from the central Italian town of Mantua, where his party was launching its election campaign, to follow the latest developments. He has reportedly called a special cabinet meeting for 16:00 local time.

  43. Funding provision

    Richard Galpin, BBC World Affairs correspondent, says the European Commission is "ready to provide emergency funds to Italy if Rome asks".

    An EC official says if Italy makes a formal request for emergency funding to help with the issue of migration, then this could be provided immediately, but so far Brussels has not received any such request.

    A request for more comprehensive assistance would require discussions with EU member states, the official says.

  44. 'Blind eye to genocide'

    Joseph Muscat

    Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says history will judge European nations harshly if efforts are not made to stop migrant crossing deaths in the Mediterranean.

    "Although we are seeing encouraging signs from European politicians, action must be taken," he says.

    "There is a tragedy going on in the Mediterranean. A time will come when Europe will be judged harshly for its inaction as it was judged when it had turned a blind eye to genocide."

  45. The crossings in numbers

    Statistics on migrant crossings to Europe - 19 April 2015
  46. Disaster "anticipated"

    Mark Micallef, chief reporter for The Times of Malta, believes the current rescue operation is "exactly what people forecasted" when the EU replaced migrant rescue operation Mare Nostrum with the Triton operation in 2014.

    He says Mare Nostrum operated "very close to Libyan borders" which enabled rescuers to be "right there on the spot" in a mayday situation.

    However, people had "anticipated" that Triton's new area of operation was "not where SOS' tend to happen" so rescue vessels are reaching scenes "too late", he adds.

    Here's more of that interview.

  47. Rescue numbers

    Italy's coastguard confirms on Twitter that 28 people have been rescued and 24 bodies have so far been recovered.

  48. The ships and the search

    Map of Mediterranean showing search for survivors

    To give you some sense of the scale of the search under way - here's an image showing the boats and ships searching for survivors. Towards the right hand side there is a cluster of vessels - among them are a Portuguese-registered cargo ship, a vehicle carrier from Malta and another cargo ship registered in Singapore.

  49. Rising numbers rescued?

    Mark Micaleff, Times of Malta joiurnalist

    Mark Micallef, a journalist with the Times of Malta newspaper, tells the BBC the number of those rescued now appeared to be as high as 50. We're waiting for further confirmation of those numbers.

  50. "The pain of so many men"

    The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, says the number of dead in the migrant boat sinking, which currently stands at 28, were provisional "but destined to grow".

    He added: "How can there be beauty while every day in the Mediterranean Sea we witness a massacre, the pain of so many men and women that we pretend to forget?"

  51. Plea from Malta

    Robert Metsola - MEP for Malta

    Roberta Metsola, a Member of the European Parliament from Malta, tells the BBC: "This has been going on for too long. It cannot be that every year, as soon as the seas get calmer, we hear of hundreds more deaths." She called on greater co-operation and surveillance by European countries.

  52. Root causes

    "The only way to truly change the reality is to address the situation at its roots," the European Commission says.

    "For as long as there is war and hardship in our neighbourhood near and far, people will continue to seek a safe haven on European shores. And as long as countries of origin and transit do not take action to prevent these desperate trips, people will continue to put their lives at risk."

  53. Migration management

    The European Commission says it is currently consulting with member states, European agencies and international organisations to prepare a new European Migration Strategy, to be adopted by the Commission in mid-May.

    "What we need is immediate actions to prevent further loss of life as well as a comprehensive approach to managing migration better in all its aspects," it says.

  54. "Obligation to act"

    In a statement, the European Commission says it is "deeply chagrined by the tragic developments in the Mediterranean today, but also over the past days and weeks".

    "The reality is stark and our actions must therefore be bold. These are human lives at stake, and the European Union as a whole has a moral and humanitarian obligation to act."

  55. Migration map

    Migration routes map - Europe/Africa/Middle East

    This is a map of the routes taken by those looking to leave Africa behind and head into Europe.

  56. "A man-made tragedy"

    Charities have been quick to respond to the tragedy. John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's director for Europe and Central Asia, says: "What we are witnessing in the Mediterranean is a man-made tragedy of appalling proportions. These latest deaths at sea come as a shock, but not a surprise.

    "Whilst merchant vessels and their crews have bravely attempted to fill the gap left by the chronic shortfall in specialist search and rescue teams, they are not designed, equipped or trained for maritime rescue. It is time for European governments to face their responsibilities and urgently set up a multi-country concerted humanitarian operation to save lives at sea."

  57. "No easy solutions"

    Maltese President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca says in the Times of Malta that the island, a destination for many migrants crossing the Mediterranean, cannot look at migration as a "bogeyman".

    "There are no easy solutions to migration. It's no longer just about war. In today's world people are on the move, just like our own children are going abroad to better themselves.

    "If it were us - if we had to leave home for a chance at life with human dignity - wouldn't we take that chance?"

  58. Holding centre

    Holding centre in Lampedusa

    This is the holding centre where migrants are taken to on the island of Lampedusa. Hundreds of migrants have drowned this month trying to reach Europe, even before this latest sinking.

  59. Coast guard update

    Comandante Filippo Marini of the Italian coast guard has told the BBC that rescue operations are still ongoing, with 28 survivors rescued so far. Some of them are now on a merchant ship and others are on a coastguard ship. There have been 24 bodies rescued from the sea so far, which are on the Gregoretti coastguard vessel. It is not yet known where the bodies and survivors will be taken.

  60. Targeting traffickers

    French president Francois Hollande on Canal Plus, April 19, 2015

    Mr Hollande also said there was an urgent need to increase the amount of patrol boats and of aerial surveillance flights. In an interview on the Canal+ channel, he said: "Those who put people on boats are traffickers, even terrorists."

  61. Urgent address

    France's President Francois Hollande has called for an emergency meeting of European interior and foreign ministers to address the situation with migrants. It is a call that has been repeated in Malta, which is taking part in the search and rescue operation.

  62. "Thank God I am alive"

    One migrant who had arrived earlier on Lampedusa told the BBC team there that he was glad to have made the trip. "I thank God I am alive," he told us. "Africa now is not good. In Nigeria we are bring threatened by Boko Haram. That is why I risked it."

  63. Rescue ship

    Image of the King Jacob ship

    One of those ships involved in the operation is the King Jacob, a Portuguese-registered cargo ship. It was the first ship to reach the stricken boat - and also helped rescue 480 other migrants from the sea earlier in the week.

  64. Post update

    The BBC's Richard Bilton in Lampedusa says the Italian island is scrambling to react to the latest horror in the seas off its coastline.

    Much of the harbour has emptied and coastguard, customs and fishing boats all left before dawn to help with the rescue.

    It's still not clear whether the survivors will be brought back to Lampedusa. Staff at the small island hospital say they have not been told, our correspondent adds.

  65. Post update

    You can take a look at the area where the search and rescue operation is taking place here. About a dozen boats or ships have been circling an area north-east of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, for the last few hours.

  66. Post update

    Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen says: "Yet again we have woken up to reports of another tragedy in the Mediterranean, which could bring the total number of migrants who've drowned just this year to a shocking 1,500.

    "This is a Europe-wide crisis that needs a Europe-wide response."

  67. Post update

    Pope Francis went on to say: "Faced with such a tragedy, I express my most heartfelt pain and promise to remember the victims and their families in prayer."

  68. Post update

    Speaking in St Peter's Square in the Vatican this morning, Pope Francis called on authorities to take action to avoid similar tragedies in the future.

    He said: "They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life."

  69. Post update

    The Italian coastguard says a major rescue operation is under way after the vessel carrying "between 500 and 700 migrants" capsized at midnight local time, in Libyan waters south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

  70. Post update

    Welcome to our live coverage of the rescue operation to help survivors of a boat carrying migrants which has capsized in the Mediterranean. Hundreds are feared to have drowned.