ROME (AFP) ― Italian and Maltese rescuers found 18 bodies on an overcrowded migrant boat on Saturday, with Italian officials blaming toxic fumes from the engine and the Maltese military saying there could have been a stampede.
Three asylum-seekers were evacuated by Italian coastguards and rushed to hospital. One of them died on the way and two others were in a serious condition, officials said.
The boat is estimated to have had 400 people on board and was first spotted by a Danish ship south of the Italian island of Lampedusa in waters between Libya and Malta.
The Maltese military were immediately alerted and requested assistance from the Italian coastguard to help rescue the asylum-seekers from the wooden 25 meter boat.
“Eighteen bodies were found on the boat,” Italian coast guard spokesman Filippo Marini told news channel SkyTG24.
The survivors were being taken to Italy, while the bodies of the victims were expected to arrive in Malta on Sunday.