25 dead bodies have been found on a boat carrying almost 300 African refugees to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Port authorities have said the men appear to have chocked to death on the overcrowded vessel.
The journey from North Africa takes around two days
A boat arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa on Monday was found to be carrying the dead bodies of 25 African refugees.
The men were found in the engine room of the vessel which set sail from Libya three days ago. The boat was believed to have been carrying as many as 296 migrants in extremely cramped conditions.
Port authorities said tests were being carried out to establish the possible cause of death. But prosecutors, who have launched an inquiry, said the men appeared to have been killed by exhaust fumes.
"We will carry out an autopsy to find the precise cause of death even though initial checks show that it was apparently due to asphyxiation," said local prosecutor Renato Di Natale.
The authorities only discovered the dead bodies on their final check of the boat as the surviving refugees had failed to mention their presence.
Thousands of people fleeing conflict in North Africa have arrived on the tiny island of Lampedusa in recent months.
According to the United Nations refugee agency, one in 10 migrants fleeing the turmoil in Libya in rickety boats either drowns or dies from hunger or exhaustion during the crossing.
Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer