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ROME (AP) — The bodies of some 30 would-be migrants were found in the hold of a packed smugglers' boat heading to Italy, the latest deaths in a surge of immigration to Europe, the Italian navy said Monday.
The boat was carrying nearly 600 people, it said. The remaining 566 survivors were rescued by the navy frigate Grecale and were headed to Pozzallo on the southern tip of Sicily.
Overall last weekend, the navy said it rescued more than 5,000 migrants, adding to the nearly 60,000 people who have made their way to Italy since the beginning of the year, compared with 42,000 in all of 2013.
Most are African or Middle Eastern refugees who pay hundreds or thousands each to smugglers in Libya who pack them into unsafe fishing vessels. Officials say the numbers have swelled this year due to increasing instability in Libya.
The estimated 30 corpses were discovered in the bow of the boat during the rescue, according to a navy statement. The victims were believed to have suffocated or drowned.
In a separate sea rescue operation, navy officials isolated a migrant suffering from an infectious disease but did not identify the ailment.
Italy beefed up its sea rescues last October after a migrant boat capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa, killing more than 360 people. Italy says the European Union needs to shoulder more of the costs of the rescue operations and will use its EU presidency starting Tuesday to press its case.
Italy says it spends 9.5 million euro ($13 million) a month to operate the sea and air patrols.
The EU's home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, said Monday the commission was preparing a plan to dismantle the smuggling networks at their origins and was making 4 million euros ($5.5 million) available to Italy in emergency assistance.
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