Divers recover 17 more bodies, death toll hits 211

Associated Press
Migrant boat sinks off Sicily
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Italian military personnel disembark from a boat carrying the bodies of African migrants killed in a shipwreck off the Italian coast lie in Lampedusa harbour on October 8, 2013 in Lampedusa, Italy. The search for bodies continues off the coast of Southern Italy as the death toll of African migrants who drowned as they tried to reach the island of Lampedusa is expected to reach over 300 people. The tragedy has bought fresh questions over the thousands of asylum seekers that arrive into Europe by boat each year. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)

LAMPEDUSA, Italy (AP) — Italian divers recovered 17 more bodies Monday from a smugglers' boat that capsized and sank to bottom of the Mediterranean Sea with hundreds of migrants on board.

That brought the confirmed death toll from Thursday's tragedy to 211 before poor weather off the southern island of Lampedusa again halted the recovery operation.

Only 155 people of the estimated 500 on board survived the sinking. Scores of bodies are believed to be still trapped in the hull of the 18-meter (59-foot) boat, which is resting 47 meters (154 feet) below the surface.

Monday was the first day that divers entered the hull. Coast Guard Capt. Filippo Marini estimated it would take two more days to complete the search and recovery mission.

"Bodies have been recovered from outside the ship and from the ship's cabin. Now we have to get inside the hold," Marini said.

The Coast Guard hoped to resume the search later Monday if the weather clears.

Diver Riccardo Nobile, who did multiple dives on Sunday when 83 bodies were recovered, said the work inside the boat is much more complicated. Divers can only stay submerged for seven to 10 minutes, depending on the conditions.

"I found myself for more than an hour among these corpses. It was difficult to look straight at their faces, to see their wounds, see their tormented expressions, their outstretched arms," said Nobile, who also spent stretches on a boat while other diving teams worked. "It was extremely difficult. But this is our job."

The ship had arrived within sight of Lampedusa, a tiny island that is Italy's southernmost point, after two days of sailing from Libya. The capsizing tossed hundreds of people into the sea, many of whom could not swim.

Tens of thousands of migrants from African and the Middle East try to cross the Mediterranean Sea each year, seeking a better life in Europe. Hundreds die in the process.

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AP Writers Colleen Barry in Milan and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed.

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