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At Least 40 Migrants Suffocate To Death In The Latest Mediterranean Tragedy

An Italian navy commander told local media his crew found dead bodies in the migrant ship's hold and he believed those killed had inhaled exhaust fumes.

Posted on August 15, 2015, at 9:34 a.m. ET

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At least 40 people died Saturday in the Mediterranean while traveling in an overcrowded boat trying to reach European shores, the Italian Navy said.

In a series of tweets on Saturday, navy officials said 312 people, including 45 women and three children, had been brought to safety during a rescue by an Italian vessel off the Libyan coast, but more than 40 had been killed.

The rescue ship's commander, Massimo Tozzi, told Rai News those who died were found in the ship's hold. He said it appeared they died from inhaling exhaust fumes. Some people smugglers charge migrants more money to secure a spot on the ship's deck.

Officials also released video footage of navy personnel transferring scores of people off an open-top blue boat, overflowing with passengers, and on to the patrol ship Cigala Fulgosi.

"It was a scene with a strong emotional impact," Tozzi told Rai News. "There were several dead bodies submerged in water, fuel, and human excrement."

"This is the picture that is presented to our men when they got on board," he said.

On Friday, the International Organization for Migration said the number of people who have tried to make the voyage to Europe in 2015 is now approaching 250,000.

"With rescues at sea occurring at a rate of over 1,000 migrants a day this summer off Italy and Greece, the number of arrivals has already surpassed the total arrivals in 2014," the IOM said.

The group also said 2015 had been the deadliest for migrants in the Mediterranean, with at least 2,300 people having died making the perilous journey.

Earlier this month, at least 25 people died when a migrant ship capsized off Libya.

Many of those trying to reach Europe on the overcrowded migrant boats are fleeing war, persecution, poverty, and famine in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.