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Monday, 12 May 2014 | MYT 9:36 PM

Migrant boat carrying hundreds sinks south of Sicily

ROME (Reuters) - A boat carrying hundreds of migrants has sunk south off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italian authorities said on Monday, a day after dozens were drowned off the Libyan coast.

An Italian navy spokesman said vessels from the Mare Nostrum task force, set up after hundreds of people drowned in migrant boat disasters last year, were on their way to the scene in the waters between Sicily and Libya.

A navy spokesman said the boat was estimated to be carrying around 200 people although some Italian media reports said it may have been carrying twice that number.

No further details were immediately available.

Italy has struggled for decades with a steady stream of migrants travelling in small, unsafe boats from North Africa to the tiny island of Lampedusa, midway between Tunisia and Sicily.

The flow has intensified since the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011 and the civil war in Syria, with well over 25,000 arriving in the first few months of this year. Libyan Navy spokesman Col. Ayoub Qassem said numbers leaving had increased in the past few days but authorities did not know why.

Hundreds were drowned in two separate disasters last year that prompted the government to step up air and marine patrols of the seas south of Sicily.

On Sunday, a least 40 people died and 51 others were rescued after a boat carrying mostly sub-Saharan African migrants sank off Libya's coast east of Tripoli.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Angus MacSwan)


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