At least 55 people have drowned as two boats carrying migrants from Africa and the Middle East capsized in the Mediterranean.

At least 33 people died on Friday when a boat carrying 250 mostly Somali and Eritrean people sank in waters between Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa, while 12 others died in a second accident off the coast of Egypt’s Alexandria.

On the first of Friday’s incidents, 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."

Fleeing war, upheaval

The accidents are the latest in a series which have killed hundreds of people, including at least 339 Eritrean and Somali migrants in a disaster near Lampedusa on October 3.

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.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies