ROME – A cargo ship rescued 74 illegal immigrants who were found near death on a small boat drifting in the Mediterranean, police said, while about 25 more may have died and been tossed overboard.
The immigrants, from two West African countries, had left Libya and were trying to make their way to Italy, the ANSA news agency said. They were found south of Sicily (search), and were brought to the island's port of Syracuse on Sunday.
One died upon arrival and 16 were hospitalized, officials said.
Syracuse police official Vincenzo Mauro said there were believed to have been about 100 people on the 45-foot-long small wooden boat when the journey began and some died of starvation or dehydration.
"From what the survivors have told us, some of the illegal immigrants were abandoned in the sea. But we still need to clarify this," Mauro said.
Mauro said some of the survivors were being housed in a school gymnasium, while others were being interviewed by police and immigration officials.
Each paid smugglers from $800 to $1,800 for the trip to Italy, according to immigrants' interviews, Mauro said. He declined to give details on their nationalities or point of departure while interviews were still ongoing.
Thousands of immigrants attempt the dangerous voyage aboard overcrowded boats to Italy's long coastline every year in hopes of finding work and gaining residency in Europe.
The Italian government said this latest case demonstrated that the European Union and other nations must join together to battle illegal immigration.
"This umpteenth tragedy at sea dramatically raises the need to govern the migration process through wide-ranging international understandings that simultaneously involve the countries of origin, of transit and of arrival," Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said in a statement.