The Italian coast guard has released harrowing footage of terrified migrants and refugees, including toddlers, being rescued after their boat sank in choppy seas.
In the dramatic video footage, men, women and children scream for help as coast guard swimmers try to rescue them.
Crew members frantically hurl life rings into the sea as the boat that brought the migrants and refugees from the coast of Libya sinks beneath the waves.
A little boy of about four or five, soaked to the skin, is told by a coast guard officer: “Go inside” after he is hauled aboard the patrol boat, cold and bewildered.
A coast guard swimmer rescues another child, who is wearing a mauve jacket and pink trousers, and can be heard breathing heavily as he swims towards a patrol vessel.
The rescue happened on Saturday just off Lampedusa, an Italian island south of Sicily.
The coast guard managed to save 149 people, including a one-year-old baby.
But several people died. The bodies of seven migrants, five of them women, were retrieved on Sunday.
Some of the bodies were found floating at sea while others washed up on the island.
Another dozen people are missing, presumed dead.
The boat carrying the asylum seekers sank around 1.5 miles off the coast of Lampedusa.
The coastguard said the rescue operations had been complicated by rough seas "but also owing to the large number of people who fell into the water simultaneously".
The foundering migrant boat had been spotted by fishermen walking along the coast of Lampedusa.
“We understood immediately that the very high waves were about to knock over the boat," said Stefano Martello, one of the fishermen.
"We called the coast guard port office, and (their) motorboats arrived within a few minutes," he told the Ansa news agency.
"It was this speediness that saved the migrants who in the meantime had fallen into the water. Without the immediate intervention of the motorboats, they all would have died."
The coast guard described Saturday’s rescue as particularly dramatic.
Not only did two specialised rescue divers jump into the sea – so did the crew member in charge of the engine room, because so many people had fallen into the water at the same time.
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"In the meantime, the coast guard crew who remained aboard took to throwing everything possible into the sea – life preservers, floating buoys, sideboard bumpers and every other thing that could allow the shipwrecked to grab onto and save themselves from certain drowning," the coast guard said in a statement.
The heroic actions of the coast guard officers demonstrate that “Italy is still a great country, capable of saving human lives,” Paolo De Micheli, the minister for transport and infrastructure, said in a tweet. “I am proud to represent these discreet, silent heroes.”