refugee crisis
Six dead bodies were found aboard a partially submerged rubber dinghy carrying migrants Patrick Bar / SOS MEDITERRANEE

Unconfirmed reports that 400 migrants have drowned crossing the Mediterranean from Egypt have prompted contradictory responses from authorities in Africa and Europe. Meanwhile, dozens more were feared dead in a separate incident en route from Libya.

The BBC Arabic service claimed four boats, each carrying 100 people, sank on their way to Italy, killing all those on board. The report was based on interviews with Kenya-based relatives of three Somali nationals who were said to be on one of the vessels. It also quoted the Somali ambassador to Cairo as saying they were working to verify the information.

Italian president Sergio Mattarella cited the story as he urged further reflection on the refugee crisis after what he described as "yet another tragedy in which several hundred people have died". The Italian coastguard, however, said they had no information on the incident and had received no distress calls.

"We have learned about this from the press," a coastguard spokesman told IBTimes UK. No related search and rescue operation was currently under way, the spokesman said.

Flavio di Giacomo, a spokesman from the International Organisation for Migration, said the NGO was contacting its sources in Egypt but they also weren't immediately able to confirm the tragedy took place. "We can't exclude it either but at the moment there are no confirmed shipwrecks," he told IBTimes UK.

Di Giacomo said it was possible a number of migrant boats might have left from Egypt but noted that there have been instances in the past of reports of migrant deaths that later proved unsubstantiated.

Meanwhile there were fears for the lives of dozens more migrants missing at sea after a separate –and this time confirmed – incident. The Italian coastguard said 108 people were rescued alive from the semi-submerged rubber-dinghy that ran into trouble off the Libyan coast.

The vessel was intercepted by a private ship from humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee, which said its staff found six people dead on board. The bodies were lying at the bottom of the boat, the NGO said. Causes of the deaths were not immediately clear.

Survivors said between 135 and 160 people were on the boat as it left Libya before encountering rough seas with high winds and waves of up to 2m. The dinghy's engine broke down and part of the vessel started deflating, quickly filling with water. Up to 42 people were swept away by the waves and are believed to have drowned.

Two more died after jumping into the freezing waters as SOS Mediterranee's ship Aquarius, which has a medical team of Médecins du Monde on board, approached.

"Some people panicked and jumped into the water during the rescue operation, two of them drowned when being swept away by currents," the charity said. Survivors were from a number of sub-Saharan countries including Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Ivory Coast, Togo, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

"[They] were freezing and under shock, some of them could hardly walk and others were completely naked," said SOS Mediterranee. Those rescued are being disembarked on Italy's southernmost island of Lampedusa.

More than 23,000 would-be-refugees have already arrived in Italy since the beginning of 2016 and numbers are expected to grow quickly as the milder spring and summer weather improves conditions.