29 migrants die of hypothermia off Lampedusa

Victims freeze to death en route to Italy

At least 29 African migrants have died from hypothermia while crossing the Mediterranean in extremely cold and dangerous conditions during the early hours of 9 February.

Italian coast guard ships rescued more than 100 people packed onto a small life raft but the initial death toll of seven rose to 29 in the hours after the rescue.

The migrants requested help via satellite telephone when they were about 160 km from Lampedusa, the tiny Italian island between Libya and Sicily, which acts as stepping-stone for African immigrants seeking refuge in Europe.

A merchant ship nearby responded until the coast guard arrived to take aboard both the survivors and the seven victims.

The rescue effort was hampered by waves reaching heights of up to nine metres, and the coast guard did not reach Lampedusa until the afternoon of 9 February, by which time a further 22 migrants had died from hypothermia.

The UNHCR said in December that at least 3,419 migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean in 2014.

See related article.