At least four people have died and others are missing at sea after a fire broke out on a boat carrying migrants off the coast of southern Italy, according to local media.
It is unclear if the unnamed people were killed in the fire — apparently ignited by fuel on board — or if they had drowned at sea, Italian state TV’s RaiNews24 said.
It added that several migrants were injured, along with two customs police crew members, one of whom suffered burns and the other a broken leg.
The fire sent up a column of dark smoke that could be seen from a beach near Crotone, a port town in Calabria and triggered an explosion. One news agency said about 20 migrants had been on board the sailboat.
Italian coastguard staff helped transfer people from the sailboat when the fire began, reports suggested.
While many migrants try to reach Italy in unseaworthy boats launched from Libyan shores where human traffickers are based, this year has seen most of the migrants reaching Italy coming from Tunisia or other points, often without needing rescue.
Earlier on Sunday, the arrival of hundreds of migrants worsened severe overcrowding on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa and triggered protests among islanders.
Lampedusa’s mayor vowed to call a protest strike to demand the Italian government lessen dangerous overcrowding in migrant shelters.
The arrival of 450 migrants crammed into a rickety fishing boat triggered an angry demonstration by islanders on Saturday night.
A migrant centre on Lampedusa meant to house fewer than 200 is now crammed with 1,200 people after the latest arrivals, including several small boats with migrants that set out apparently from Tunisia.
Mayor Toto Martello expressed astonishment that a fishing boat carrying 450 migrants managed to arrive within a few kilometres of the island without being noticed by military vessels or aircraft, including the European Frontex mission, which is supposed to be fighting human trafficking in the central Mediterranean.
Also reaching Lampedusa on Saturday were 49 migrants taken by the coastguard from a boat funded by the street artist Banksy.
The Louise Michel, painted bright pink, had so many people on board that it could not navigate.
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