Italy migrants: 'Seventy missing' off Sicily

Migrants disembark in the Sicilian harbour of Pozzallo (1 July) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thousands of migrants have been rescued by the Italian navy since the start of the year

At least 70 migrants have been lost at sea after their boat capsized off Sicily, survivors have said.

The latest disaster to hit migrants trying to reach Italy emerged from a group rescued by the Italian navy who spoke to UN workers.

Thousands of migrants have tried to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa in recent days.

Earlier, Italian officials said 45 people had died on another boat discovered two days ago.

Initial reports on Monday had put the number of deaths on the boat - which had been carrying about 600 migrants - at 30.

The navy said that those who died were crammed into a compartment below decks. They were either crushed or asphyxiated.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Bodies of those on board were removed when the boat arrived at Pozzallo under tow

The discovery was made when rescuers boarded the vessel to evacuate a number of people said to be in distress, two of them pregnant women.

The boat has since been towed to the port of Pozzallo in southern Sicily and the bodies of those who died have been taken away.

The cause of many of the migrant tragedies in recent months has been the poor quality of the overcrowded boats making the crossings to Italy, largely from Libya and Tunisia,

The latest disaster to emerge involves a boat that capsized in the Strait of Sicily, the stretch of sea between the island and Tunisia.

Local prosecutor Giovanni Salvi told Italian media that 101 people were apparently on board the overcrowded boat. The navy managed to rescue 27 of those on board, he said, emphasising that the details were yet to be confirmed.

There has been a significant increase in the number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy in recent weeks.

EU border agency Frontex says almost 60,000 migrants have already landed in southern Italy this year. The record of 63,000 set in 2011 is likely to be broken within weeks.

Most are from Africa or the Middle East and pay large sums to people smugglers in Libya who transport them in unsafe fishing vessels.

Officials say one reason for the rise in numbers is because of Libya's continuing political instability.

Italy - which bears the brunt of migrants making the perilous crossing - launched a rescue operation in the Mediterranean last year but has repeatedly appealed for help from the EU to tackle the problem.

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