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More than 100 migrants dead as boat sinks off Italy's coast

Photo: AFP

At least 100 people died and many more remain missing after a boat carrying up to 500 African migrants caught fire and sank off the coast of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in southern Italy on Thursday, officials said.

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More than 100 people have died after a ship carrying African migrants towards Italy caught fire and sank off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, officials said.

Another 151 people have been rescued, according to the Coast Guard, but the boat is thought to have been carrying up to 500 people, suggesting many more are still missing.

Italy's Coast Guard said at least 20 more bodies have been found near the wreckage of the boat on the sea floor, bringing the confirmed death toll to more than 100 people.

Italy will hold a national day of mourning for the victims on Friday.

The mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, said the dead included a child of about three years old and a pregnant woman. “It’s an immense tragedy,” she said.

The mayor said that migrants had lit a small fire on the boat about a kilometre from the shore to attract the attention of coast guards after their vessel suffered a technical failure.

The fire then spread, sowing panic on board which caused the boat to capsize, she said.

“The survivors are in a state of shock,” Nicolini told the SkyTG24 television channel. “They have been in the water since the early hours of the morning.”

Coast Guard ships and helicopters from across the region, as well as local fishing boats, were on the scene trying to find survivors in the sea, said Coast Guard spokesman Marco Di Milla.

The migrants were believed to be Eritreans or Somalis coming from Misrata in Libya, according to Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.

Lying between Tunisia and Sicily, Lampedusa is a major entry point for asylum-seekers into the European Union, with thousands arriving every year.

Thursday’s tragedy was the second deadly migrant shipwreck to take place off the Italian coast this week, after 13 men drowned on Monday when their ship ran aground just a few metres from shore as they tried to reach southern Sicily.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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