Thousands of migrants have risked their lives to reach Italy this year
Nineteen migrants have died, reportedly by suffocating, aboard a crowded boat travelling from North Africa to Italy.
The migrants are thought to have choked on fumes from an old engine while they were confined below deck, Italian news agency Ansa reports.
Rescuers found 18 people in a tangle of bodies. Another person is said to have died during the evacuation. The boat was carrying some 600 people.
Italy is struggling to cope with a rising flow of migrants to its shores.
Many of them make the dangerous crossing from Africa on crowded and unseaworthy vessels, says the BBC’s Rome correspondent, Alan Johnston.
The boat in the latest incident was heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa. It was intercepted after it sent out an SOS signal.
Two passengers from the boat have been taken for treatment to a hospital in Sicily.
In the past month, at least 45 migrants have died in similar circumstances – as a result of being crushed or asphyxiated aboard overcrowded boats.
On Friday, Ansa reported that migrants rescued by a merchant ship this week had spoken of a shipwreck in which 60 people had drowned.
There has recently been a huge rise in the number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.
EU border agency Frontex says almost 60,000 migrants have already landed in southern Italy this year.
Most are from Africa or the Middle East and pay large sums to smugglers in Libya and Tunisia, who transport them in unsafe fishing vessels.
Officials say Libya’s continuing political instability is partly to blame for the rise.
Italy – which bears the brunt of migrants making the crossing – launched a rescue operation in the Mediterranean last year, and has repeatedly appealed for the EU’s help to tackle the problem.