Rescuers had recovered 93 bodies by midday and were searching for 250 still reported missing at sea. At least 150 people were rescued.

A ship carrying African migrants to Europe caught fire and capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, killing at least 94 people as hundreds of passengers were thrown into the sea, officials said. Over 150 people were rescued but some 200 were still unaccounted-for.

It was one of the deadliest accidents in recent times during theperilous Mediterranean Sea crossing from Africa for migrants seeking a new life in the European Union. “We need only caskets, certainly not ambulances,” said an official.

“It’s an immense tragedy,” said Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini, adding that the dead included at least one child of about 3 and a pregnant. Blue, white and black tarps covered the bodies at the port.

Coast guard ships, l fishing boats and helicopters were combing for survivors, said the coast guard. The boat left from Tripoli with migrants from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, it said.

Antonio Candela, the government’s health commissioner for Palermo, said 159 people had been rescued, but the boat is believed to have been carrying as many as 500 people, the LaPresse news agency reported.

Nicolini said the ship had caught fire after those on board set off flares so it would be seen by passing ships. Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland — a mere 113 kilometers off the coast of Tunisia and is the frequent destination for smugglers’ boats.

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