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Italian coastguard finds 30 dead migrants in fishing boat

The Italian coastguard has found the corpses of 30 migrants in a boat off the coast of Sicily. Over the weekend, authorities rescued more than 1,600 people making the perilous journey from North Africa to Europe.

Italian rescuers found the bodies when they boarded a boat crammed with nearly 600 people on board. The deceased migrants had apparently perished from asphyxiation, Italian news agencies reported.

The boat is now being towed ashore by the Italian navy and is expected to arrive early Monday in Pozzallo on the southeast coast of Sicily.

So far this year, Italian rescuers have saved 60,000 migrants while making the dangerous trip from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

This year's overall number is expected to far exceed the record set during the Arab Spring in 2011, when authorities counted 63,000 migrants. Last year, Italian rescuers took in 43,000 people.

Rome launched a rescue operation called "Mare Nostrum" after hundreds of migrants perished when their boat sank off the Italian coast last year. Italian welcome centers have been overwhelmed by the inflow of migrants.

Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has called for the national operation to become a European Union initiative.

slk/ipj (AFP, dpa)