Choppy seas prevented divers on Friday from recovering more bodies of migrants who died in a shipwreck off Sicily that has killed an estimated 300, in one of the worst disasters of Europe's immigration crisis, Reuters reported.
Coastguard boats and helicopters in the morning continued searching the sea off the Italian island of Lampedusa for hundreds of missing people.
The mayor of Lampedusa, Giusy Nicolini, said the death toll from the sinking on Thursday was likely to rise. "It's horrific, like a cemetery, they are still bringing them out," she said.
More than 150 people were rescued but several hundred others are still unaccounted for, according to AP.
"We need only caskets, certainly not ambulances," Pietro Bartolo, the chief of health services on the island, told Radio 24.
The boat was carrying about 500 migrants from Eritrea, Somalia and Ghana.
"Italian officials described that many of these people had been in the water since the early hours of this morning and that it was a race against time to rescue as many of them as possible," Al Jazeera's correspondent said.
"It appears that there was a malfunction on board and the migrants were believed to have created a small fire on board to attract the attention of the coastguard. What we can gauge from what the survivors have been saying is that the fire caused panic on board, which caused the boat to flip over," Al Jazeera quoted an unnamed Italian official as saying.
Pope Francis on Friday mourned the death of the migrants in the latest tragedy. "Today is a day of tears," he said.
Maurizio Lupi, Italy's transport minister, said more needed to be done to combat people-traffickers who put migrants in crowded and unsafe vessels.
The boat is believed to have set off from Libya on Tuesday. A fishing boat raised the alarm at about 7:20am on Thursday (05:20GMT) and began pulling people out of the water before coastguard vessels arrived.
It sank just four days after 13 migrants drowned when their boat foundered off eastern Sicily.
Subscribe to our RSS feed to stay in touch and receive all of TT updates right in your feed reader