ROME — A rubber boat crowded with migrants deflated and foundered in the Mediterranean, and as many as 40 people apparently drowned before an approaching merchant ship could reach them, witnesses told the humanitarian group Save the Children on Tuesday.
Counting the latest shipwreck, the death toll for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year is now more than 1,800. Even so, the number of people attempting the crossing on smuggler boats is rising sharply. The Italian authorities reported that nearly 6,000 people were rescued in the Mediterranean in a 48-hour period over the weekend, including a woman who gave birth to a baby girl on an Italian naval vessel.
The situation has become a humanitarian crisis for Europe, especially after an overloaded vessel capsized during a rescue attempt last month, drowning at least 700 people near the Libyan coast. European leaders responded by tripling their budget for search and rescue operations and by promising to crack down on traffickers, but critics called the response inadequate.