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Boat packed with migrants sinks near Sicily, killing dozens

ROME — Having floated for at least two days in the choppy Mediterranean to reach Europe, a rickety trawler overstuffed with African migrants fleeing war and poverty was nearing a Sicilian island, not even a quarter-mile away. But it was still dark and no one had yet spotted them. So to signal their position, someone set a match to a blanket.

But rather than sending a signal, the fire brought tragedy when flames from the burning blanket ignited gasoline. Nearly 500 people are estimated to have been on board — including children and babies — and the blaze created a panic that capsized the boat. So close to reaching land, the migrants were now tossed into the sea. Many could not swim. Pregnant women and children were among the drowned.

The accident, which occurred before dawn Thursday within easy eyesight of the island of Lampedusa, is one of the worst in recent memory in the Mediterranean: at least 94 people were reported dead, with 250 still missing. Late Thursday afternoon, officials said more bodies had been discovered in the sunken ship. At least 150 people survived, and Italy’s coast guard was continuing to search for more survivors.

—Jim Yardley and Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times

New York City Opera files for bankruptcy

NEW YORK — New York City Opera, which was founded 70 years ago to help bring opera to the masses, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday after an urgent $7 million fundraising appeal fell short last month.

The opera company said in court papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York that its assets were worth $7.7 million — which includes the remainder of its endowment and some pledges that have not been received — and that it had liabilities of $5.6 million, including pension obligations. The company said in court papers that it was evaluating the restrictions on the endowment fund and that it would not withdraw money from it without court permission.

The filings show the death throes of the company that George Steel, its final general manager, describes in court papers as “one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions.” The troupe, which balanced its budget over the last two years, still had an accumulated deficit of $44 million as of last year, the filing said. Its endowment, which was once $55 million, had dwindled to around $4.5 million.

City Opera’s biggest listed creditor after its pensions is its former housemate, New York City Ballet, the company with which it shared a Lincoln Center home for decades. City Ballet has a $1.6 million claim, according to the bankruptcy filing, related to City Opera’s 2011 departure from the performance space they shared, the David H. Koch Theater.

—Michael Cooper, The New York Times