ROME, Feb 26 (Reuters) - At least 59 people died, including 12 children, when a wooden sailing boat carrying migrants to Europe crashed against rocks near the southern Italian coast early on Sunday, authorities said.
The vessel, which sailed from Turkey and was carrying people from Afghanistan, Iran and several other countries, sank in rough seas before dawn near Steccato di Cutro, a seaside resort on the eastern coast of Calabria.
The incident reopened a debate on migration in Europe and Italy, where the recently-elected right-wing government's tough new laws for migrant rescue charities have drawn criticism from the United Nations and others.
Manuela Curra, a provincial government official, told Reuters that 81 people had survived the shipwreck. Twenty of them were hospitalised, including one person in intensive care.
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, who travelled to the scene, said 20-30 people might still be missing, amid reports from survivors that the boat had been carrying between 150 to 200 migrants.
The vessel set sail from the western Turkish port of Izmir about four days ago and was spotted about 74 km (46 miles) off the Italian coast late on Saturday by a plane operated by European Union border agency Frontex, Italian police said.
Patrol boats were sent to intercept it, but severe weather forced them to return to port, police said, adding that authorities then mobilised search units along the coastline.
A baby aged only a few months was among those found washed up on the beach, ANSA news agency said.
Emergency doctor Laura De Paoli described finding another dead child, aged seven.
"When we got to the point of the shipwreck we saw corpses floating everywhere and we rescued two men who were holding up a child. Sadly, the little one was dead," she told ANSA.
His voice cracking with emotion, Cutro's mayor, Antonio Ceraso, told the SkyTG24 news channel that he had seen "a spectacle that you would never want to see in your life ... a gruesome sight ... that stays with you for all your life".
Wreckage from the wooden gulet, a Turkish sailing boat, was strewn across a large stretch of coast.
One survivor was arrested on migrant trafficking charges, the Guardia di Finanza customs police said.