Rome (AFP) – At least 40 migrants died in the hold of a boat off Italy as the EU struggled to cope with “the worst refugee crisis since World War II”, with thousands making dangerous crossings to reach Italy and Greece.
“Operation under way… many migrants saved. At least 40 dead,” the Italian navy said on Twitter, while the Corriere della Sera newspaper said those who died were found in the hold of the vessel, apparently having suffocated below deck.
An Italian navy helicopter had spotted the boat, which was “overcrowded and starting to sink”, about 21 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, a reporter with Italy RaiNews TV at rescue operation headquarters said.
An Italian navy patrol boat was sent to its aid at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and when its sailors boarded the boat, the grim discovery was made.
“We were faced with a very emotional scene,” Commander Massimo Tozzi told the Italian news agency AGI, describing how some bodies were floating on the water.
The 312 survivors — including 45 women and three children — were then transferred to the Norwegian vessel Siem Pilot.
Almost 400 other migrants were picked up in the Mediterranean Saturday by other vessels taking part in the EU’s patrol and rescue operation, Triton. ∞∞∞∞∞ MORE »»»»