At least 100 people have died, among them children, after a boat containing asylum seekers caught fire and sank off the island of Lampedusa in Italy. The boat carried a total of 500 African asylum seekers.
Some 103 bodies have been recovered from the burnt vessel, including three children and two pregnant women. Authorities fear more are still trapped in the 20m (66-ft) vessel.
At least 150 people have been rescued. But 200 still remain to be unaccounted for.
Authorities said the death toll could rise to 300 or more.
"Seeing the bodies of the children was a tragedy. We have run out of coffins," Pietro Bartolo, a doctor, was quoted by the AFP. "In many years of work here, I have never seen anything like this," he said.
Children Among Dead in Asylum Boat that Sank off Italy (Screengrab)
The vessel was already less than 1 km (half-a-mile) offshore when it caught fire. Panic gripped its travelers, most of which do not know how to swim.
"This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy," Angelino Alfano, Italy's Interior Minister, said. "Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy."
Some of the survivors recalled asking for help from passing fishing boats when the fire started to break out, but were disregarded. Eventually some of them were forced to create a bigger fire by igniting blankets just to attract the attention of coast guards.
But the fire spread quickly, overwhelming those on board.
"We saw a sea of heads. We took as many as we could on board," Raffaele Colapinto, a local fisherman, told AFP.
BBC News reported the bodies of the dead were already being taken to an airport hangar because it could no longer be accommodate at the island's morgue.
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