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Hundreds missing in African coast boat accident

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Man aids struggling Libyan refugees
  • About 800 refugees were heading from Libya to Lampedusa, Italy
  • The boat was overcrowded
  • Between 200 and 270 people are missing
  • Libya
  • Lampedusa
  • Tunisia

(CNN) -- As many as 270 Libyan refugees were missing in the sea after the overcrowded boat they were in encountered bad weather, the Tunisian state-run TAP news agency reported.

The Tunisian coast guard responded to the rescue call regarding the fishing trawler, which became disabled Wednesday night near the Kerkennah Islands. The ship was reportedly taking some 800 refugees from Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa, TAP reported.

An official told the agency that between 200 and 270 people were missing. At least two bodies had been recovered, the agency reported.

People on the boat began pushing each other in a panic to reach the lifeboats when they ran into high waves and winds, TAP said.

Lampedusa, the closest Italian island to Africa, has become a destination for tens of thousands of refugees seeking to enter the European Union.

More than 30,000 migrants and refugees from Tunisia and Libya have risked this dangerous journey to Lampedusa since last February.

Lampedusa and Malta, both islands less than an hour's flight from the North African coast, have borne the brunt of the subsequent wave of migration.

At one point, the population of migrants vastly outnumbered the tiny population of Lampedusa, which numbers less than 6,000.