At least 82 migrants were believed drowned on Thursday (October 3) after a migrant boat caught fire and sank off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.
Four coast guard and police vessels and two helicopters were in the area and a submerged vessel of about 20 metres in length had been identified in the water.
Rescuers had pulled at least 162 people from the water but dozens more were believed to be still in the sea.
The mayor of Lampedusa, Giusy Nicolini said 82 dead bodies had been recovered, mostly Somalis and Eritreans, and the toll was rising.
A fishing boat raised the alarm at around 7:20 a.m. (0520 GMT) and began pulling people out of the water before coast guard vessels arrived on the scene, officials said.
The boat sank just four days after 13 migrants drowned when their boat foundered off eastern Sicily and doubled the number of migrant deaths recorded so far this year.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in July that around 40 deaths had been recorded in the first six months of 2013, a sharp reduction from the previous year after Italian and Maltese authorities improved coordination.
Thousands of desperate migrants from Africa, arrive in unsafe, overcrowded vessels every year, with most coming to Lampedusa, a tiny island just 113 kilometres from the coast of Tunisia.
Numbers of arrivals have been boosted this year by thousands of refugees from the civil war in Syria, most of whom have arrived on the eastern coast of Sicily from Egypt.
Presented by Adam Justice