'They were crying for their husbands and children'
At least 40 migrants died yesterday in the hold of an overcrowded smuggling boat in the Mediterranean north of Libya - apparently killed by fuel fumes. Some 320 others aboard were saved by the Italian navy.
Migrants by the tens of thousands are braving the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, hoping to reach Europe and be granted asylum. They are fleeing war, persecution and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
"The dead were found in the hold," said Cmdr Massimo Tosi, speaking from the navy ship Cigala Fulgosi while the rescue was still ongoing. Asked how the migrants died, Tosi said "it appears to be from inhaling exhaust fumes."
When rescuers stepped aboard the boat, the bodies of migrants were "lying in water, fuel, human excrement" in the hold, Tosi said.
The death toll was not yet final. "They are still counting the victims," a spokesman said.
Tosi said the survivors included three children and 45 women, some of whom "were crying for their husbands (and) their children who died in the crossing."
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, migrants on a Turkish beach scuffled over places on one inflatable dinghy and frantically bailed out another to keep it from sinking during a dramatic night that highlighted their desperation to reach the Greek island of Kos - and the safety of Europe.
Turkish authorities reported that 2,791 migrants have been caught in the Aegean Sea in the past five days alone, most of them Syrians.
Kos is only 4km from Turkey at its closest point, its twinkling lights at night an irresistible beacon to those fleeing war.