26 migrants die off Italian coast


At least 26 African immigrants died trying to reach Italy in a rickety wooden boat, police said today, citing accounts from some of the survivors rescued by a merchant ship off the Sicilian coast.

A merchant ship plucked another 75 African immigrants to safety who had been drifting in a 14-metre boat 75 miles off the Italian coast with little food and water.

The migrants said about 100 people had been in the boat when it left the coast of Libya nine days ago but a quarter of those died on the way and the survivors threw their bodies over board, police officials said.

"My son didn't make it, I had to abandon him in the sea," one of the survivors said, ANSA news agency reported.

Another man died from suspected hypothermia while he was being flown by emergency helicopter to a hospital in Malta, police said.

The migrants said they were from Sudan, Liberia, the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone and had paid $800-$1,800 for their passage, police said.

Small boats carrying illegal migrants regularly make their way between North Africa and Italy. Scores have died in recent years when overcrowded boats capsized or sank.