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UN: Boat with refugees from Libya taking on water, may be at risk

From Ivan Watson and Livia Borghese, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A U.N. official says a boat carrying Libyan migrants is taking on water
  • "There are women and children on board," says the official

Lampedusa, Italy (CNN) -- A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative says a boat carrying an estimated 220 migrants is headed north from the Libyan coast towards Europe, but the boat is taking on water and at potential risk.

"There are women and children on board," said Laura Boldrini, a spokesperson for UNHCR. "They have to do something before its too late."

Boldrini said the boat was officially in Malta's zone of search-and-rescue operations.

Italian Coast Guard Capt. Vittorio Alessandro told journalists Italian authorities were in contact with passengers aboard the boat via satellite phone. He added that it appeared the boat was leaking and taking on water.

One likely destination for the boat would be the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, which has been overwhelmed by a flood of tens of thousands of migrants and refugees making the dangerous journey by sea from North Africa.