Italian naval and coast guard vessels recovered 14 bodies and
rescued around 200 people after a migrant boat sank in the
sea between Libya and southern Sicily, authorities said, a
day after dozens were drowned in a similar incident.
Italy has struggled for decades with a stream of migrants
travelling in small, unsafe boats from North Africa to the
islet of Lampedusa, midway between Tunisia and Sicily. The
influx of migrants has grown since the Arab Spring upheavals
of 2011 and the protracted civil war in Syria.
An Italian navy statement said two naval and two coast guard
patrol boats and a vessel from the Guardia di Finanza customs
police had joined the rescue operation on Monday and medical
assistance was being provided to survivors.
It was unclear how many other survivors or bodies might
remain in the water, with some Italian media reports saying
the boat may have been carrying as many as 400 people when it
sank some 60 miles off the Libyan coast.
On Sunday, at least 40 people died and 51 others were rescued
after a boat carrying migrants mostly from sub-Saharan Africa
sank off Libya's coast east of Tripoli.
Hundreds of migrants were drowned in two separate disasters
last year that prompted the Italian government to step up air
and marine patrols of the seas south of Sicily.
Well over 25,000 migrants have reached Italy in the first few
months of this year, with the collapse of order in large
parts of Libya leaving authorities struggling to combat the
groups that control the illegal migrant traffic.
"There has been an unexpected wave of illegal immigration
these days and we do not know the reasons why this has
happened yet," said Libyan Navy spokesman Col. Ayoub Qassem.
With less than two weeks to go before European parliamentary
elections, the issue of immigration has become a hot
political topic, with Italian politicians repeating
longstanding calls for other countries in Europe to do more
"There needs to be urgent action by the European Union to
open reception camps managed directly by the United Nations
for refugees in Libya," Khalid Chaouki, an immigration
specialist from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's centre-left
However, Italy's anti-immigration Northern League party
repeated its call for the Mare Nostrum naval task force set
up last year to be scrapped, saying it encouraged people
"The Mare Nostrum operation is false charity, Russian
roulette disguised as a humanitarian operation," said
Gianluca Pini, a lawmaker from the party.