At least 30 dead bodies were found on a boat full of migrants bound for the southern Sicilian port town of Pozzallo, Italian navy officials and the coast guard said Monday.
Police and coast guard officials reportedly found the dead bodies in the hold of a packed fishing boat, which was overloaded with nearly 600 people. The refugees reportedly suffocated to death because of crowding in the bow. The incident, which is the latest in a string of accidents that have caused the deaths of migrants bound from North African shores, closely follows the Italian navy's sea rescue of 1,600 migrants over the weekend, according to Associated Press.
The Italian navy has now taken charge of the boat and will guide it to Pozzallo by Monday, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
Italian authorities estimate that more than 60,000 migrants have landed in the country since the beginning of the year, putting Italy on pace to exceed the 63,000 migrants who entered the country in 2011 while the Arab Spring was sowing volatility in North Africa, according to AFP.
Earlier this month, at least 39 people were rescued after an overloaded boat bound for the Italian island of Lampedusa sank off the Libyan coast. Last October, 360 people drowned after a boat on its way to the island sank.
The Italian government has requested support from other European countries in dealing with the surge of migrants from North Africa, who have been making increasingly desperate attempts to escape strife in their countries by cramming into overloaded boats run by unscrupulous human traffickers.
Angelino Alfano, the Italian interior minister, has called on European leaders to join forces to safely transport thousands of people now waiting on the Libyan coastline to make the crossing, AFP reported.