Mediterranean migrant boat death toll rises to 30

AFP
Immigrants are transferred from the tanker "Torm Lotte" to the tug boat "Grifone" near Messina following a rescue operation on July 20, 2014
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Immigrants are transferred from the tanker "Torm Lotte" to the tug boat "Grifone" near Messina following a rescue operation on July 20, 2014 (AFP Photo/Giovanni Isolino)

Valletta (AFP) - The death toll from the latest Mediterranean migrant boat disaster rose to 30 on Sunday, as Malta said it had found 29 bodies in the vessel's hold and Italy said a Syrian baby had died.

Maltese officials said the migrants -- almost all Syrian -- may have died in a stampede as the boat was being rescued, while Italians said they may have been overcome with toxic fumes from the engine.

Italian and Maltese officials originally said 18 people were found dead and another had died on the way to hospital, according to figures given when the vessel was rescued on Saturday.

The 566 survivors, including the parents of the one-year-old who perished, arrived in the Italian port of Messina aboard the Danish merchant ship that rescued them.

The migrant boat with the 29 bodies was towed to Malta.

The vessel first had to be emptied of water that it had taken on. Soldiers, firemen and the police then carried the bodies out of the boat and onto waiting hearses.

There has been a sharp rise in migrant landings in recent weeks because of the calm summer weather and growing lawlessness in Libya, with hundreds of migrants now being intercepted by Italian authorities every day.

Around 80,000 migrants are now believed to have landed in Italy so far this year -- higher than the previous record of some 60,000 set in 2011 at the height of the turmoil triggered by the Arab Spring revolutions.

Most of the migrants making the risky and often deadly journeys come from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria but there are also many arriving from across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

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