(Reuters) - Italian naval and coast guard vessels recovered 14 bodies and rescued around 200 people after a migrant boat sank in waters between Libya and southern Sicily, authorities said on Monday, a day after dozens of people 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, and the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011 and the continuing civil war in Syria has worsened the problem.
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.
On Sunday, at least 40 people died and 51 others were rescued after a boat carrying mostly sub-Sahara African migrants sank off Libya's coast east of Tripoli.
Well over 25,000 migrants have reached Italy in the first few months of this year. Libyan Navy spokesman Col. Ayoub Qassem said the numbers leaving had increased in the past few days but authorities did not know why.
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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.