ROME – A boat carrying 120 illegal immigrants bound for Italy sank south of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa early Saturday, killing at least 10 people, port authorities in Palermo said.
An Italian Navy ship, the Minerva, spotted the boat before dawn Saturday about 11 miles south of Lampedusa, and sent rescue vessels, Admiral Ferdinando Lavaggi said.
About 70 people were rescued and 10 bodies were recovered, Lavaggi said.
Ships, planes and helicopters searched the sea throughout Saturday, but no more survivors were found or bodies recovered, port officials said. The group of migrants also included Iraqis, Lebanese and other North Africans, authorities said.
About 12 people were taken to a hospital in Lampedusa, though no one was in life-threatening condition, Lavaggi said. The rest of the migrants were taken to a holding center on the island.
Thousands of illegal immigrants have made their way this summer to Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than to mainland Italy. Most use rickety crafts that set out from North Africa.
Italy has been trying to encourage northern African countries, especially Libya, to crack down on smugglers who leave their shores with migrants, many of whom pay thousands of dollars for the journey.
Interior Minister Giuliano Amato urged prosecutors to search for those responsible for Saturday's deaths.
"What happened today is not only a tragedy, it is a true crime. And if we don't punish crimes they repeat themselves, and tragedies repeat themselves," Amato said in a statement. "Let's see if we can once and for all unravel these criminal organizations that endanger so many lives daily during Mediterranean crossings."