Europe migrant crisis: Dozens die in hold of Libya boat

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media captionThe BBC's James Reynolds: "It seems that these migrants were overcome by diesel fumes"

At least 40 migrants have died in an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean, the Italian navy has said.

Some 320 others were rescued when the vessel was intercepted off Libya.

The dead were found in the fishing boat's hold. It is thought they died after inhaling fumes from the engine, the rescue vessel's captain said.

European officials say the plight of migrants, almost 250,000 of whom have crossed by boat to the continent this year, is "beyond urgent".

So far this year, more than 2,000 migrants have died trying to cross the sea to Europe, the UN says.

The BBC's James Reynolds in Rome says it has become the world's most dangerous migrant journey.

image copyrightReuters
image captionRefugees and migrants continued to arrive on the Greek island of Kos - these Iranians had paddled a dinghy across from Turkey
image copyrightReuters
image captionTempers frayed as migrants queued by the police station in Kos town, hoping to register and obtain papers
image copyrightReuters
image captionA ferry sent to Kos to provide accommodation for refugees from Syria had yet to open its doors on Saturday

The fishing boat was apparently taking on water when it was spotted about 21 nautical miles (39km) off the Libyan coast and south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said rescuers were "still counting the victims", but that about 320 people had been rescued. Those rescued included about 10 women, as well as children.

The commander of the naval vessel involved in the rescue said his officers had encountered distressing scenes when they boarded the fishing boat.

They found dead bodies in the hold floating in water, fuel and human excrement, Massimo Tozzi said.

In other developments in the eastern Mediterranean:

  • Coastguards on the Greek island of Kos told the Reuters news agency that they rescued more than 200 people in several small boats on Saturday
  • A ferry sent to Kos to be a floating registration and accommodation centre for 2,500 refugees was not yet operational 24 hours after arriving.

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