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Migrant boat carrying hundreds sinks south of Sicily

In this handout picture released by the Italian coast guards on March 19, 2014 migrants sit in a boat during a rescue operation off the coast of Lampedusa. AFP PHOTO/GUARDIA COSTIERA

ROME: Several people were reported killed on Monday after a boat packed with around 400 migrants sank off the coast of southern Italy, Italian media reported, adding that around 200 of the passengers had already been rescued.

ANSA news agency said the incident happened some 100 nautical miles (185 kilometres, 115 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa and that "several bodies" had been recovered by coast guards on the scene.

"A boat filled with migrants sank a few hours ago off the Libyan coast," the navy said in a statement.

It said a helicopter had been dispatched and two warships were "headed to the area at maximum speed to lend assistance".

The La Repubblica daily said the boat sank around 50 nautical miles north of the Libyan coast.

The report said Italy's coast guard was alerted to the incident by the crew of a ship involved in offshore oil extraction in the area.

In a migrant boat shipwreck on Tuesday that was reported by the Libyan navy on Sunday, 36 migrants died and 42 were missing. A naval spokesman said that 52 people were rescued.

More than 400 migrants drowned in twin tragedies off Lampedusa last year and immigration charities estimate that up to 20,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years.

Hundreds of migrants have been landing in Italy on an almost daily basis in recent weeks, many of them intercepted by the Italian navy in an operation aimed at rescuing migrants and deterring traffickers.

Most of the immigrants come from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria and arrive on rickety fishing boats from Libya.

 

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