Up to 500 migrants drown in the Mediterranean

The survivors from Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan say they were transferred to another vessel when it sank.

A video grab released by the Italian Coast Guards on 23 August 2015 shows migrants waiting on an overcrowded boat being helped during a rescue operation off the coast of Libya as part of the Frontex-coordinated Operation Triton. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Up to 500 migrants have drowned after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean.

The survivors from Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Egypt say they were transferred to another vessel when it sank in the middle of the night.

They were trying to reach Italy.

At the same time, six bodies were recovered and 108 migrants were rescued from a semi-submerged rubber dinghy, Italy's coast guard said on Monday, as boat arrivals accelerate amid calm seas.

A private rescue ship called Aquarius run by humanitarian group SOS Mediterranean found the bodies on the rubber dingy on Sunday, a coast guard spokesman said.

Five women were among those rescued. The coast guard had no details about the nationality of the migrants.

The migrants and the six corpses are being taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the coast guard said.

Separately, Italy's coast guard rescued 33 migrants from a small island off the eastern coast of Sicily on Sunday.

Almost 6,000 migrants and refugees sailed from Libya to Italy last week in what appears the start of a wave of at least 100,000 and "possibly many, many more" this year, the International Organisation for Migration said on Friday.

Additional reporting by Reuters.