Rome: At least 14 people died when a boat packed with migrants sank between Libya and Italy on Monday, in the latest shipwreck tragedy to hit the Mediterranean.
The Italian navy said another 200 people had been rescued, while some media reports claimed as many as 400 people had been on board the sinking ship -- just days after another migrant boat disaster off Libya.
"Fourteen bodies have been recovered so far. Medical workers on the Sirio and the Grecale are providing assistance to the 200 survivors," the Italian navy said on Twitter, referring to two warships on the scene.
Two Italian coast guard vessels and several merchant ships that scrambled to the area were also taking part in the high-seas rescue operation, the navy said, adding that a helicopter had also been deployed.
Libya has long been a springboard for Africans seeking a better life in Europe and the number of illegal departures from its shores is rising due to clement weather conditions and growing lawlessness.
Hundreds of migrants land in Italy almost every day, most of them asylum-seekers from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria, and many are now being picked up by Italy`s navy.
The latest shipwreck happened at around 1100 GMT and some 100 nautical miles (185 kilometres, 115 miles) south of Lampedusa island, Italy`s southernmost point.
The area is near an offshore oil rig in international waters and is closer to Libyan than to Italian shores.
Italian media cited coast guards saying that some 400 people had been on board the migrant boat, which would leave dozens of people still unaccounted for.
"Our ships are there recovering the dead and saving the living. Europe is not helping us," Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said, adding: "The Mediterranean is not an Italian border but a European border".
Immigration charities estimate that some 20,000 migrants have died in the past two decades trying to reach Italy and have called for "humanitarian corridors" to allow asylum-seekers to reach Europe.
ANSA news agency cited rescuers saying the boat was first spotted by a patrolling Italian coast guard plane that made an emergency call to a merchant ship in the area, which became the first on the scene.
The migrant boat later sank, the report said.
European leaders expressed outrage and called for action in a repeat of the response to the drowning of more than 400 migrants off Italy in October 2013.
European Parliament president Martin Schulz said in a tweet that he was "shocked" by the tragedy, adding: "EU must take responsibility to protect people and values".
On a visit to Brussels, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini spoke of a moral duty "as human beings to avoid people dying in the Mediterranean".Libya said it was not involved in the rescue, with naval spokesman Colonel Ayub Kassem saying the country "does not have the means to help with this shipwreck".
The Libyan navy also said it had intercepted and rescued 340 migrants off the coast of the western town of Sabratha when their boat began to take on water.
Among the rescued migrants were 40 women and 13 children, most of whom were Sudanese and Eritreans.
The Libyan navy earlier said that 36 migrants perished, 42 were missing and 52 were rescued following another shipwreck on Tuesday closer to Libyan shores.
Alfano said last month that more than 20,000 migrants had arrived in Italy this year.
Libya`s interim interior minister said on Saturday that Tripoli could "facilitate" the migrants` transit unless the European Union helped it combat the problem.
"I`m warning the world and Europe in particular -- if they do not assume their responsibilities, Libya could facilitate the transit of this flood" of immigrants towards Europe, Salah Mazek told a news conference.
He said Libya was "suffering" because thousands of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were spreading disease, crime and drugs in the North African nation.
"Libya has paid the price. Now it`s Europe`s turn to pay," Mazek added.