Rome: Italy`s Navy said on Friday that 17 boat migrants had died of hypothermia and dehydration in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe amid a sharp turn in the winter weather.
Navy and coast-guard boats responding to an emergency call on Thursday found an inflatable dinghy adrift off the Italian island of Lampedusa with 16 bodies and 76 migrants aboard.
One of those rescued died shortly after the rescue mission, raising the death toll to 17.
Italy has been particularly affected by a surge in the numbers of migrants seeking to slip into Europe by sea from Africa, with more than 150,000 rescued from rickety boats already this year after setting off from Libya, even in adverse weather conditions.
The navy said it had rescued another 202 migrants from two other boats attempting the crossing on Thursday, dousing expectations that the numbers would fall off as a result of Italy`s suspension of its naval search-and-rescue operation, Mare Nostrum.
Critics had argued the mission was encouraging migrants to take the risk of setting off in what are almost invariably overcrowded and unsafe vessels. The mission, replaced in part by Triton, is a multinational operation run by the European coastal agency Frontex.