Dozens of people are feared dead after a boat carrying more than 200 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean.

Italian and Maltese ships – backed by helicopters – were scrambled to the scene and are searching in darkness.

At least 120 people are said to have been saved. There are reports that 50 bodies have been seen in the water.

The boat capsized 120km (70 miles) off Lampedusa, an Italian island where more than 300 African migrants drowned when their vessel went down last week.

'Women and children'

The boat is believed to have encountered difficulties just before sunset.

Reports said people on board had crowded to one side of the vessel, causing it to capsize, as they tried to get the attention of a passing aircraft.

The vessel was reportedly first spotted by the Maltese air force who alerted Italian naval vessels still in the area after last Thursday's boat disaster.

Maltese authorities are co-ordinating the mission, which is taking place in the country's territorial waters.

The BBC's Matthew Price in Lampedusa says that the helicopters and navy crews were able to pull at least 120 people to safety, but darkness is now hampering rescue operations.

Italy's Ansa news agency said that the bodies of 10 children were seen among 50 fatalities in the water, but this has not been officially confirmed.

The nationalities of those on board the boat were not immediately known.

Key destination

Lampedusa, which lies 290km (180 miles) off the coast of Africa, is a key destination for migrant vessels bound for Europe.

Last Thursday, at least 319 people – mostly Somalis and Eritreans – died when their boat sank near the island.

Only 155 people were rescued of more than 500 believed to have been on board, making it one of the worst in a series of migrant boat tragedies to blight the region.

Earlier on Friday at least 500 more migrants travelling in separate boats were rescued in coastguard operations near the Italian island of Sicily.

Also on Friday, a separate boat accident off the Egyptian port of Alexandria claimed the lives of at least 12 migrants.

Egyptian security officials said 116 people, mostly Palestinians and Syrians, were pulled from the water and taken to a police station.