A migrant boat has capsized in the Mediterranean sea sending about two hundred people into the sea and killing 33, the Italian navy and the national news agency ANSA said.
The incident came just over a week after at least 319 people drowned when a boat carrying Eritrean and Somali migrants sank near the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
We have to understand that these are migrants who have no experience in the water. Some had life jackets, some didn't.
"There are at least 200 people in the sea and our helicopters are picking them up," said an Italian navy spokesman, adding that two navy ships were also on the scene.
The boat sank only around 120 km off Lampedusa and survivors would be taken there, he added.
Maltese authorities were co-ordinating the rescue operation, which was in Maltese waters, and a Maltese ship was on the scene, a Maltese navy spokesman said.
Al Jazeera's Karl Stagno-Navarra, reporting from Malta, said that a Maltese navy aircraft had spotted the migrant boat and watched it capsize.
"Immediately, a rescue operation was launched and a Maltese navy boat reached the migrants in a few minutes," Stagno-Navarra said.
"We have to understand that these are migrants who have no experience in the water. Some had life jackets some didn’t."
So far Coastguard spokesperson Alessandro Busonero has said 150 of the survivors are going back to Malta and 56 others are in Italian hands going back to the island of Lampedusa.
Fleeing war, upheaval
Last week's disaster was one of the worst in a long migrant crisis that has seen tens of thousands of people arrive in flimsy, overcrowded boats in southern Italy, and some vessels wrecked. Lampedusa, a tiny island midway between Sicily and Tunisia, has borne the brunt.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 32,000 have arrived in southern Italy and Malta this year alone, around two thirds of whom have filed requests for asylum.
Earlier on Friday at least 500 more migrants in at least three separate boats arrived or were rescued on the way to different parts of Sicily.
Most migrants come from sub-Saharan Africa, but this year many are fleeing the Syrian civil war or political turmoil in Egypt and other parts of North Africa. Many are drawn by hopes of finding work in Europe and often do not stay in Italy.