Dozens die after boat sinks off Italy’s coast; ‘lots more’ missing in sea

By Claudio Lavanga and Alexander Smith, NBC News

ROME — A boat carrying hundreds of migrants went down after catching fire off Italy’s southern coast on Thursday, killing dozens and leaving scores missing, officials said.

Italian coast guard Commander Floriana Segreto told NBC News that at least 94 people had been confirmed dead with another 151 people rescued, adding that “lots more” people remained in the water.

Officials said there were between 400 and 500 migrants on the boat when it sank in the Mediterranean Sea off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.

Dead bodies are covered with sheets at the port of Lampedusa, Italy, on Thursday after a migrant boat sank.   Nino Randazzo / EPA

Lampedusa Mayor Giusy Nicolini told Reuters the death toll was rising. Authorities said the victims included people from Somalia, Eritrea and Ghana.

“It’s horrific, like a cemetery, they are still bringing them out,” Nicolini said, adding that the dead included at least one child and a pregnant woman.

The Pope tweeted from his Italian-speaking account: “We pray to God for the victims of the tragic shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa.”

Coast guard ships and helicopters from across the region, as well as local fishing boats were on the scene trying to find survivors, coast guard spokesman Marco Di Milla told The Associated Press.

The vessel was thought to have left Libya, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

Almost 500 people were reported dead or missing making the crossing from Tunisia to Italy last year, the UNHCR said.

Thursday’s migrant shipwreck was one of the deadliest in recent times and the second one this week off Italy: On Monday, 13 men drowned while trying to reach southern Sicily when their ship ran aground just a few yards from shore.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. NBC News’ Alexander Smith reported from London.

Guardia Costiera / AFP – Getty Images

This image taken from a video released by the Italian coast guard shows some of the passengers rescued near Lampedusa early on Thursday.