ROME — A crowded boat filled with migrants capsized in wind-whipped seas near a small Mediterranean island Saturday, sending them tumbling into the water, said the Italian coast guard, which pulled 143 of them from the water. There were fears two people were missing.
The coast guard said the rescue by four of its motorboats took place near Lampedusa, an Italian island south of Sicily, and that those plucked to safety were brought to port.
But at portside, two of those rescued, a Libyan and a Ethiopian, told authorities that their wives weren’t among them, prompting fears the two women were missing offshore, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
The coast guard said the rescue was launched after a local citizen signaled that a 10-meter-long (33-foot) boat was foundering about a mile from Lampedusa.
In its statement, the coast guard gave no indication anyone was missing, saying no bodies were spotted at sea.
A coast guard helicopter and airplane were among aircraft deployed for the rescue, and several coast guard motorboats searched for the women feared missing.
Risking their lives, migrants set out in unseaworthy boats launched by Libya-based human traffickers.
In a separate development, the Italian interior ministry said a humanitarian ship, with 213 rescued migrants aboard, has been assigned the port of Messina, Sicily, for disembarkation.
On Friday, two others who had been aboard the Ocean Viking were evacuated by helicopter to Malta, said Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, the humanitarian organizations that operate the vessel.
One of those evacuated was woman in an advanced state of pregnancy with twins, Doctors Without Borders said, while the other was a man who had gunshot wounds from his time in Libya. SOS Mediterranee said that earlier in the week, 90 of those aboard had been rescued from a foundering dinghy after being adrift for two days in the waters north of Libya.
The interior ministry said Malta, Germany, France and Italy had requested that the European Commission activate procedures to find countries willing to take the migrants. The ministry gave no indication how long that process might take, or when the Ocean Viking could disembark in Sicily.