It has become an all-too familiar sight in the waters off the coast of Italy.
Overloaded boats, crammed with asylum seekers, capsizing under the weight of their passengers in the Mediterranean and dumping hundreds of men, women and children into the waters to either sink or swim.
The Italian navy released a series of startling images this week of one such incident, showing an overloaded trawler in the process of tipping over, and people struggling to stay afloat as they waited for rescue.
Astoundingly, the vast majority of the passengers survived and were picked up by navy boats. Of the more than 500 people on board, five reportedly drowned. One official with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) called it “a miracle,” especially given how many of the passengers were below deck when the trawler tipped.
More than three dozen smuggling vessels have required rescue in the southern Mediterranean since the start of the week, according to the navy. They are just the tip of the iceberg, however.
The IOM is reporting that a little over 191,000 migrants and refugees have reached Europe by sea between Jan. 1 and May 21, 2016. They have mainly landed in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Spain.
Deaths over the same time period on all Mediterranean routes stand at 1,370, the organization says, which is 24 percent lower than 2015’s total of 1,792 through the same period.
Since the start of the year, the number of Syrian refugees arriving in Italy by boat has been low. The majority of passengers are now from sub-Saharan Africa, fleeing conflict and repressive regimes in Nigeria, Somalia, Gambia and Eritrea.
Once they have been rescued, people plucked from the sea are normally taken to Italy and told they must leave within a week. It is no longer possible to apply for asylum at the Austrian-Italian border, a policy which prevents most from moving into Europe.