migrant boat tragedy
© EPA/HO40 migrants are said to have suffocated in the boat’s hold

At least 40 people have died after apparently suffocating in the water-logged hold of a fishing boat in the Mediterranean.

The boat, which was carrying migrants fleeing Libya, took on water and it's believed that victims suffocated after inhaling fumes from fuel.

Italian Navy Commander Massimo Tozzi described the tragic scenes witnessed after his men boarded the boat.

They found the dead in the hold 'immersed in water, fuel and human excrement'.

Migrants who have arrived in Italy say human traffickers based in Libya charge them between $1,200 (£767) and $1,800 (£1150) for a place on the deck of boats.

Those crammed in the hold pay about half as much as those above.

Admiral Pierpaolo Libuffo, head of Italy's rescue operations, said 312 survivors had been taken on board, including 45 women and 3 children.

He added that seven dead bodies had been recovered, but around 30 others were still in the hold. The boat was being towed to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

'Either the international community does something to resolve the Libyan situation or this will not be the last tragedy,' Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

migrant boat tragedy
© ReutersAn Italian Navy spokesman said the hold was swimming with fuel fumes and excrement
Today's sad news is the second fatal accident in the Mediterranean this week, during which about 2,000 migrants have been rescued.

Last Tuesday, up to 50 immigrants went missing when a large rubber dinghy sank.

And earlier this month around 200 migrants were presumed dead off the coast of Libya when their boat capsized

More than 2,300 people fleeing war and poverty have died this year in attempts to reach Europe by boat, compared with 3,279 deaths during the whole of last year, the International Organisation for Migration said.

The Geneva-based organisation said the number of migrants who have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year is approaching a quarter of a million, compared with 219,000 for all of last year.