Another 75 boat migrants are feared lost in the Mediterranean, according to survivors who reached Sicily and have been cited by the UN refugee agency. On Sunday 45 people died trapped in the hull of a fishing boat.
The UNHCR said on Wednesday survivors recovered from a rubber dinghy by patrolling Italian vessels had told it of a further 75 occupants who had been lost at sea during their journey on the flimsy, overcrowded vessel.
Italian media said Catania prosecutor Giovanni Salvi had opened an investigation and quoted him as saying the dinghy had been in a poor state.
The UNHCR said migrants rescued from a third boat en route from Libya had been brought to safety in Porto Empedocle in Sicily and had told of two occupants dying during the crossing. Four others were lost overboat, including a Moroccan boy who tried to reach a boat he had seen in the distance.
Wednesday's recovery by Italian vessels included 236 migrants, including four pregnant women and 54 children.
So far, about 500 people have died trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean this year, according to the UNHCR.
"Despite the huge efforts by the Italian authorities and the constant help offered by private boats, hundreds of innocent migrants and refugees continue to lose their lives at Europe's boundaries," the UNHCR said.
It called on governments "to provide urgently legal alternatives to the dangerous journeys by sea" by guaranteeing the "possibility" of protection and asylum to those in need of refuge.
On Wednesday, experts were set to begin post-mortems on the 45 bodies recovered from inside the hull of a fishing vessel intercepted on Sunday. It had been carrying migrants from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Cameroon.
The fishing vessel and 566 survivors were brought to the southeastern port of Possallo.
The bodies of the 45 had been kept in the boat's cold store, normally reserved for caught fish. The victims were said to be all male, from central Africa.
Italy copes with record inflow
A record inflow of 61,585 boat migrants have reached Italy on 395 boats in the first six months of this year. That compares with 43,000 over the entire course of 2013.
Last October, Italy launched Mare Nostrum, a boat patrol mission to prevent migrant deaths off Italian shores after two fatal migrant shipwrecks.
Italy wants the European Union to take over the funding of the operation.
The EU border agency Frontex said calm seas will encourage more to attempt the trip.
On Monday, German President Joachim Gauck urged Germany and the EU to take in more refugees and rethink policies.
ipj/dr (AFP, dpa)