Eleven bodies of would-be immigrants were pulled from the Mediterranean by an Italian navy while rescue vessels continued to search Monday for the remains of three others still missing, officials said.
The patrol boat "Spica" was heading for the southern Sicilian coast town of Porto Empedocle, where the 11 bodies so far located will be turned over to investigators, said the coast guard in Palermo, Sicily.
The bodies were found 60 miles (100 kilometers) southeast of Lampedusa, a tiny Italian fishing island that is closer to Africa than mainland Italy. It was not yet known how long the immigrants had been at sea or how they died in what is the latest in a string of incidents involving migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
In May, 27 migrants were left clinging to a tuna net for three days off Malta's coast after being denied access to a Maltese fishing boat. Earlier this month, a French naval frigate found the bodies of 18 people believed to be migrants off the coast of Malta.
The incidents prompted angry statements from European Union officials, and added urgency to efforts to launch new monitoring and patrol missions by the EU's external borders agency, Frontex.
Thousands of migrants try to reach Italy's coasts every year, brought in by smugglers who make lucrative runs on often fragile and overcrowded boats. The crossings usually increase during the summer thanks to good weather and calm seas.
If the migrants do not have the necessary documents and a job awaiting them in Italy, they are issued with deportation papers, but authorities say many never leave and instead make their way up the peninsula to find work or family in continental Europe.