As many as 700 are feared dead after a ship carrying Libyan migrants capsized south of Italy last night, CNN reports. “If confirmed, this would be the worst disaster of recent years in the Mediterranean,” French President Francois Hollande told Canal+ television on Sunday

According to a UN spokesperson, that number comes from one of 28 passengers rescued by the Italian Coast Guard. Another 24 are confirmed to have died.

Since January, an estimated 20,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat, sent by human smugglers operating freely in the power vacuum left by deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. In that same time, an additional 900 migrants attempting the journey are believed to died, The International Organization for Migration said Friday.

“They are literally trying to find people alive among the dead floating in the water,” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said at a party meeting on Sunday. “A tragedy is unfolding in the Mediterranean and if the EU and the world continue to close their eyes, they will be judged in the harshest terms as it was judged in the past when it closed its eyes to genocides when the comfortable did nothing.”

The Times of Malta reports that the boat may have overturned when migrants spotted a passing merchant ship and rushed toward their potential rescuer.

[Image via AP Images]