The Alarm Phone organisation reported on Friday that 500 migrants needed to be rescued from a boat off the coast of Sicily, amid a major spike in maritime arrivals to Italy and a recent catastrophic disaster.

The organisation, which answers up calls from migrant boats in danger, said on Twitter it had contacted “responsible authorities” and urged them: “Don’t waste time: send assistance now!”.

The boat departed Libya and is now “south of Sicily” in Italy’s search and rescue (SAR) maritime zone, according to Alert Phone. Frontex, the EU border authority that deploys spotter planes off the coast of Italy, refused to comment immediately.

After a tragedy in the southern region of Calabria on February 26 that killed at least 72 migrants, Italy’s migrant sea rescue capabilities have come under criticism.

Due to bad weather, police boats attempted but failed to stop the migrants’ wooden boat, and the coast guard, which is better suited to deal with strong seas, was not immediately deployed.

The right-wing government of Italy replied Thursday by toughening prison sentences for migrant traffickers and promising to deter illicit boat journeys while opening up legitimate migration pathways.

The statement has not stemmed the stream of illegal migrants, with about 3,000 individuals arriving in Italy since Wednesday, compared to approximately 1,300 for the whole month of March last year.

According to the ANSA news agency, 1,869 migrants from 41 different boats landed on the island of Lampedusa alone on Thursday, setting a new record.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) acknowledged on Thursday that at least seven Pakistanis were killed in a boat crash in Libya’s coastal city of Benghazi.

At a weekly news conference, Foreign Office spokesman Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said that the Pakistani embassy in Libya was assisting in the identification of the dead.

The dead, according to the FO spokeswoman, will be taken to Pakistan with the assistance of local authorities and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

She insisted that the embassy and foreign ministries were also in touch with the deceased’s relatives.

On Sunday, at least 30 Pakistanis were killed and 17 were rescued when their overcrowded boat capsized in rough seas in Italy’s southern Calabria area.

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