ROME -- Italy has called on NATO to investigate reports that an alliance warship failed to come to the rescue of a boat stranded off Libya for nearly a week and that scores of migrants aboard may have died for lack of food and water.
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini made the request for a formal probe Friday and said he also instructed Italy's NATO ambassador to ask the alliance to consider the care of civilians fleeing Libya on rickety boats as part of the U.N. resolution that allows military action to protect civilians in Libya itself.
NATO launched its bombing campaign to protect civilians from attacks by the regime of Moammar Ghadafi on the basis of that resolution.
Some 24,000 migrants have reached Italy by sea since the bombing campaign began in March.
In the latest reported tragedy, the Italian coast guard on Thursday rescued hundreds of people packed aboard a ship stranded between Libya and the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. Unconfirmed reports from passengers said another hundred may have died with their bodies thrown overboard. Accounts in Italian media said the dead included women and children.
The reports said the boat sent an SOS to a nearby NATO warship but received neither help nor a response while being stranded for six days.
The alliance's command in Naples said it was looking into the report but had no immediate comment.
Regarding the survivors, Dr. Marco Testa of the relief agency Medecins Sans Frontieres said:
"Most of these people were dehydrated or suffering from hypothermia."
A statement by his organization said Testa helped give medical aid at the dock when the migrants arrived, and that some of the people, still in shock, told the agency's staff that they saw "dozens of people die because of the harsh conditions."
In a separate case, police in Sicily have detained six alleged human traffickers as suspects in the deaths of 25 African migrants aboard another overcrowded boat trying to reach Italy from Libya
Authorities said they were operating the boat that was boarded Monday by the coast guard off the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is near the coast of Africa and has been the destination of scores of rickety and overcrowded boats carrying would-be immigrants.
The coast guard said the 50-foot (15-meter) boat carried 296 people, many packed in the hold.