Eighteen people have been found dead, believed suffocated inside the hold of a boat carrying migrants from North Africa to Italy.
Four hundred more people were saved from the crowded vessel after it was intercepted early Saturday south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, in waters between Libya and Malta, by Italian and Maltese naval vessels assisted by two passing merchant ships. Three gravely ill men were rushed to the Italian island of Lampedusa, but one died en route, raising the death toll to 19. The two remaining men were taken by helicopter to a hospital in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, according to the Italian navy.
Maltese authorities said many of the bodies were in the vessel’s hold. Engine fume inhalation was the apparent cause of death, the Italian navy said. Last month, 30 migrants were killed in similar circumstances.
No information was released on the nationality of the survivors, who were taken to Italy.
The Italian navy has rescued more than 4,000 migrants in the past three days, with calmer summer seas opening the way for a recent upsurge in boats trying to reach Italy. But there have also been numerous reports of casualties during this period. Among these, the Italian news agency AGI reported that a vessel capsized near the Libyan coast Friday and up to 40 people were missing. The Italian navy could not immediately confirm the report.
Another vessel, the Panamanian-flagged City of Sidon, arrived in Porto Empedocle in Sicily on Saturday with 61 migrants on board – the survivors of another shipwreck tragedy close to Libyan waters. According to the Italian news agency ANSA, the wrecked vessel originally had 102 people on board, meaning that 41 of its passengers are feared dead.
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