ROME (Reuters) - Seventeen migrants died on a boat off the coast of Libya, the Italian navy said on Friday, in the latest episode in the Mediterranean migrant crisis.
The navy said it had rescued 217 migrants in an operation carried out by its ship Fenice. No further details were immediately available.
Refugees escaping war and political persecution and economic migrants desperate for a better life have been pouring into Italy this year, with approximately 35,500 arriving there up to the first week of May, the UN refugee agency estimates. About 1,800 are either dead or missing.
A navy spokesman said it was too early to say either how the migrants died or where those that had been saved would be taken.
Hundreds or thousands of migrants are now setting sail almost every day, mainly from lawless Libya. Earlier on Friday, the Italian coastguard said more than 3,300 had been rescued off the coast of Libya in 17 separate operations.
It said its own ships as well as those of the Italian navy, Italian finance police and the navies of Ireland and Germany had been used.
Italy is bearing the brunt of Mediterranean rescue operations while European Union authorities press other member states to share the burden more fairly through a resettlement quota system for refugees.
However, an EU plan to disperse 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other member countries met with resistance this week. Britain said it would not participate and some eastern states called for a voluntary scheme.
Under plans put forward by the executive European Commission, the bloc would also accept 20,000 refugees from outside the 28-nation grouping and share them around EU states.