40 migrants suffocate on overcrowded boat off Italy

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More than 40 migrants have died in the Mediterranean on Saturday, the Italian navy said, after apparently suffocating below deck on the boat taking them to Europe. “Operation underway… many migrants saved. At least 40 dead,” the navy said on Twitter, while the Corriere della Sera newspaper said those who died were found in the hold of the vessel.

The boat, which was intercepted south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, was carrying around 300 people, the paper said. An Italian navy helicopter spotted the boat, which was “overcrowded and starting to sink”, about 21 miles off the Libyan coast, said a reporter with Italy RaiNews television at the rescue operation headquarters.

Survivors of the hazardous crossing from Libya often tell of how traffickers lock migrants in the hold — most black Africans — who pay less for the voyage. Packed inside the confined space they not only risk drowning if the rickety boats capsize, but many also die after being overcome with diesel fumes.

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