At least 14 people have been confirmed dead after a boat packed with migrants sunk between Libya and the Italian coast.

The figure was confirmed by the Italian navy, which said it scrambled two vessels and a helicopter to the scene, some 100 miles (160 km) south of Italy's southernmost island of Lampedusa.

La Repubblica newspaper earlier reported that at least 15 migrants died when the boat capsized some 50 miles north of the Libyan coast.

The newspaper said that more than 200 of the 400 people on board have so far been rescued. The navy could not confirm the report at the time.

Due to its southern location, Lampedusa is a favourite target of migrant smugglers who usually set sail from Libya's loosely patrolled coast.

To avoid coastguard patrols human traffickers often allow overcrowded, rundown boats to run adrift miles from Lampedusa's shores.

The practice has caused many vessels, usually loaded with migrants fleeing wars or hardship in Syria, Eritrea and elsewhere, to founder.

More than 350 people drowned in another shipwreck near Lampedusa last year.

Italy has since launched a large-scale operation named Mare Nostrum - a Latin reference to the Mediterranean Sea - to better patrol its southern waters and boats running into trouble.

The navy said 4362 migrants were saved as part of the operation last week alone.