Hundreds of migrants were feared dead Thursday after a boat believed to be carrying around 500 people from North Africa sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, dpa reported.
Rescuers had recovered 82 bodies by midday and were searching for some 250 still reported missing at sea. At least 150 people were rescued alive.
In dramatic TV footage, rescuers were seen lining up body bags on the dock of the island's tiny port. Survivors were said to have come mostly from Somalia and Eritrea.
A Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman told dpa that the boat had set off from Libya and passed close to the Tunisian coastal town of Sfax on the way to Lampedusa.
"It is an immense tragedy," Lampedusa mayor Giusi Nicolini said, adding that the vessel, which capsized near the smaller island of Conigli, had been set ablaze after migrants started a fire to attract the attention of people onshore.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano cancelled a press conference on his political rift with former premier Silvio Berlusconi and was expected to travel to the scene.
Italian officials said another ship carrying 463 migrants had arrived in Lampedusa overnight.
Another ship ran aground off Sicily on Monday, forcing some 200 migrants on board to swim to the coast. Thirteen of them died. Each year, especially during the warm summer months, tens of thousands of people try to reach Italy or Malta's shores. They are fleeing poverty, war and persecution in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, often at considerable expense and risk.