At least 43 dead after migrant boat capsizes near Egypt

A migrant boat carrying 600 passengers has capsized off the coast of Egypt, killing at least 43 people.

Vessel carrying 600 passengers from African countries, 155 rescued so far, official says

Migrants wave from a rescue vessel in Southern Italy, after their boat capsized in August. Another migrant boat carrying 600 people capsized Wednesday off the coast of Egypt on its way to Europe. (Yara Nardi/Associated Press)

At least 43 people are reported dead after a boat carrying African migrants to Europe capsized off the Mediterranean coast near the city of Alexandria, Egyptian authorities say.

Health Ministry official Alaa Osman from Beheira province says that 155 people have been rescued, but bodies are still being found in the area. He says the migrants were from several African countries.

Officials said 31 bodies had been found, 20 men, 10 women and one child. A Reuters correspondent later saw a fishing boat bring in 12 more bodies, bringing the total so far to 43.

Egypt's official news agency MENA said the boat had been carrying 600 people when it sank near the coast, approximately 180 kilometres north of Cairo.

The boat's voyage likely began farther to the east in Kafr el-Sheik province, Osman said.

Thousands of illegal migrants have made the dangerous sea voyage across the Mediterranean in recent years, fleeing war and poverty, mostly via lawless Libya. Thousands have drowned.

The number of migrants attempting to cross from Egypt to Europe has increased sharply in the past year, according to the European Union border agency Frontex. Some 12,000 migrants arrived in Italy from that region between January and September, compared with just 7,000 in 2015.

Egyptian smugglers typically use old fishing vessels, stuffed way beyond capacity both below and above deck, experts say.

In a report last month, the International Organization for Migration said new and more dangerous smuggling practices, coupled with attempts to reach Europe through riskier routes, have led to the spike in migrant deaths while crossing the Mediterranean.