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40 Dead as Migrants Suffocate in 'Water, Fuel, and Human Excrement' Off Libyan Coast

Italian navy rescuers pulled 320 migrants from a smuggling boat on the Mediterranean, but they say at least 40 people suffocated to death on the sinking vessel.
Handout from Italian Navy/EPA

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At least 40 migrants are thought to have suffocated to death from fumes that filled the overcrowded hull of a sinking smuggling boat on the Mediterranean, according to Italian navy rescuers, who also pulled some 320 survivors out of the waterlogged vessel on Saturday.

Rescuers who arrived at the boat, which ran into trouble at sea just off the Libyan coast, found dead migrants "immersed in water, fuel and human excrement" in the hull, where they had reportedly become trapped, Navy Commander Massimo Tozzi told reporters.


The survivors included 45 women and children, and Tozzi said some "women were crying for their husbands [and] their children who died in the crossing."

A series of videos of the rescue show members of the navy arriving in rubber dinghies to take survivors off the smuggling boat and move them to safety.

Related: Europe Launches Naval Operation to 'Attack Smugglers' in Response to Migrant Crisis

The latest deaths come amid reports that more than 2,000 migrants have died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in this year alone. That number is set to surpass last year's migrant death toll at sea, which reached 3,279 for the whole year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The migrants, many of whom are fleeing persecution or war in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, pay smugglers thousands of dollars to carry them across the Mediterranean in boats that are often overcrowded and unsafe. Many die before reaching land.

European countries have reported an influx of migrants this year numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Italy has rescued more than 100,000 migrants at sea, while Greece said there have been 134,988 arrivals from Turkey this year.

Related: Fortress Europe: The Billion Dollar Machine That Keeps Migrants at Bay

On Saturday, reporters documented scenes of desperate migrants scuffling to clamber onto small inflatable dinghies off a Turkish beach. The migrants were reportedly hoping to make the short crossing over the Aegean Sea to reach the Greek island of Kos.


This week, Turkish officials said that 2,791 migrants — most of them Syrians — have been caught attempting to cross the Aegean in the past five days, adding to the overall figure of more than 33,000 migrants who have either been caught or rescued in the Aegean in 2015.

Related: Hundreds of Migrants Locked in Greek Soccer Stadium as Kos Crisis Hurtles 'Out of Control'

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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