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Death toll in Italy’s smugglers’ ship wreck rises to 275, while prosecutors detain suspected captain

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Oct. 6: Italian soldiers carry body bags at the Lampedusa island, Italy.AP

Italian divers have recovered more bodies from the wreck of a smugglers' ship that sank off the tiny island of Lampedusa, raising the death toll to 275, while prosecutors have detained a man suspected of being the ship's captain.

Coast Guard Commander Filippo Marini said 18 bodies were recovered Tuesday from within the ship's hold, while one was spotted by a helicopter floating near the wreck.

"Some we have found with their arms outstretched. We try not to notice this kind of thing too much, otherwise the task is too difficult"

- Riccardo Nobile

Marini said the search would continue as long as weather allows. Just 155 migrants, most if not all from Eritrea, survived last Thursday's shipwreck. Survivors said there were some 500 people on board when the ship capsized and sank in sight of land.

"Some we have found with their arms outstretched. We try not to notice this kind of thing too much, otherwise the task is too difficult," Riccardo Nobile, a police diver, told Reuters. "We can see a woman's hair floating out of a broken porthole. But we haven't been able to get to her."

Italy on Tuesday detained a 35-year-old Tunisian man suspected of being the captain of the boat.

Prosecutors in Agrigento, Sicily, said they had detained the Tunisian suspect, who was transferred from Lampedusa to Argrigento under police custody aboard a ferry. He faces charges of aiding illegal immigration and multiple counts of homicide.

Coast Guard Commander Filippo Marini said 43 bodies were recovered from within the ship's hold, while one was spotted by a helicopter floating near the wreck, before the operation was suspended for darkness.

A disproportionate number of the dead are women: So far the bodies of 81 women have been recovered, while only six of the survivors were female. Eight of the dead are children.

"Inside, we're finding more women than men," Gianni Dessi, the coast guard official coordinating the diving operation, told Sky TG24. "We hope not, but we expect to find more children."

The survivors were helping identify the bodies, mostly through photographs. In some cases, divers also have recovered documents.

Tens of thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East try to cross the Mediterranean Sea each year, seeking a better life in Europe, but the journey is fraught with danger.

Thursday's sinking has one of the highest verified death tolls of migrant ship disasters in the Mediterranean. There have been past reports of large numbers of migrants lost, such as a boat with 300 that vanished in 2011, but most of the bodies were not recovered.

The Associated Press contributed to this report