Rescued refugees tell of dozens dead during sea journey from Libya
Italian coast guard officials said Friday they had failed to find any trace of dozens of migrants who allegedly died when their refugee boat became stranded in Libyan territorial waters, DPA reported.
The search began after Italian authorities rescued a group of around 300 migrants late Thursday some 90 nautical miles (166 kilometres) from the southern island of Lampedusa.
The body of a man was also found on board the boat.
Some of the migrants, many of whom were suffering from dehydration, said that around 100 of their fellow passengers, including several children, died during the journey and that their bodies had been thrown into the sea.
"Helicopter searches have not found any bodies" coast guard official Antonio Morana told television news channel Sky TG24 several hours after the search had resumed on Friday morning.
Meanwhile Italian officials are reportedly considering launching a formal complaint with NATO after one of its vessels allegedly failed to intervene to help the stranded migrants.
Also Friday, Italian authorities formally arrested six men - four Somalis, a Moroccan and a Syrian - accused of murdering two migrants who they allegedly beat to death on a refugee boat earlier this week.
The men were detained after 25 bodies where discovered on a boat which left Libya last weekend carrying around 300 people.
The bodies of the victims - all men - were discovered in the vessel's engine room by Italian coast guard officials who intercepted it early Monday.
According to reports from some of the 271 survivors who were taken ashore to Lampedusa, those who died had been prevented from reaching the deck after the air down below had become unbreathable due to engine fumes.
Most of the migrants hailed from sub-Saharan Africa.
In April, more than 250 migrants died in a shipwreck some 39 nautical miles off Lampedusa.
Italy, and mainly Lampedusa, which is only 130 kilometres off the Tunisian coast, has again become a main destination of refugees and migrants since the start of the revolutions in North Africa earlier this year.
Since January, 33,000 people have arrived on the island of just 20 square kilometres.