The Save the Children aid group reported that about 40 migrants may have drowned Sunday in the Mediterranean when the rubber dinghy they were on either deflated or exploded as they tried to reach the coast of Italy.
The humanitarian group said survivors of the accident reported that "very many" died when they fell into the sea and could not swim. They were the latest casualties of more than 1,750 deaths this year in the unrelenting stream of migrants trying to escape conflict and poverty in Africa and the Mideast for a more stable life in Europe.
The deaths were reported by survivors from Ghana, Gambia, Senegal and Ivory Coast as they arrived in the Italian port of Catania.
Italian naval and coast guard ships rescued nearly 6,800 migrants last weekend. Another 652 migrants from Ghana, Nigeria and Gambia arrived in Italy Tuesday aboard the Italian naval ship Bettica.
"We are about to reach the limit of our capacity to accommodate them," said the Reverend Vincenzo Federico of the Caritas Catholic aid group.
Taking advantage of calm seas
The number of migrants leaving Libya dramatically increased in the past few days as people smugglers have taken advantage of warm weather and calm Mediterranean waters to try to sail their dinghies and rickety fishing boats on the often perilous journey to Italian ports.
The migrants arriving in southern Italy are being dispersed to reception centers across the country. Humanitarian aid workers say many of them have legitimate claims to asylum in Europe as they are fleeing conflict and repression in such countries as Syria and Eritrea.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni called Monday for more European help in dealing with the influx of migrants. "A European emergency cannot continue to have only Italian responses," Gentiloni said.
Some humanitarian aid groups have called for a country-by-country European Union quota to accept the migrants as they arrive on the continent's shores.
But some European officials have balked at accommodating the migrants, which Italy says could total 200,000 this year, 30,000 more than in 2014.
Following April shipwrecks that killed more than 1,200 people, European leaders agreed at a summit to strengthen the European Union presence at sea, deciding to triple the previous $3.4 million-a-month funding for the operation run by the Frontex border agency.
The flood of migrants is continuing even after about 800 drowned last month in a single incident when an overcrowded boat capsized.