Migrants found suffocated in crowded vessel, as 400 are saved near Italy 

The Italian navy has rescued more than 4,000 migrants in recent days, with calmer seas causing an upsurge in boats trying to reach Italy. Photograph: Reuters

Engine fume inhalation thought to be to blame for nineteen deaths, with vessel intercepted by Italian and Maltese navies

Hannah Godfrey and agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 19 July 2014 21.42 BST

Eighteen people have been found dead, believed suffocated, inside the hold of a boat carrying migrants from North Africa to Italy. A further 400 people were saved from the crowded vessel after it was intercepted early on Saturday south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, in waters between Libya and Malta, by Italian and Maltese naval vessels assisted by two passing merchant ships. Three gravely ill men were rushed to the Italian island of Lampedusa, but one died en route, raising the death toll to 19. The two remaining men were taken by helicopter to a hospital in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, according to the Italian navy.

Maltese authorities said many of the bodies were in the vessel's hold. Engine fume inhalation was the apparent cause of death, the Italian navy said. Last month, 30 migrants were killed in similar circumstances.

No information was released on the nationality of the survivors, who were taken to Italy.

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