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Dozens of migrants die crossing the Mediterranean in escalating crisis

More than 40 migrants died in the hold of a fishing boat off the Italian coast on Saturday, after reportedly suffocating in the cramped and water-filled space, Italy’s Navy reported.

The captain of the fishing boat told Italian state television that the migrants died of suffocation from diesel fumes when the ship’s hold began taking on water, Reuters reported.

More than 300 survivors were rescued from the boat, but Italian Navy commander Massimo Tozzi told reporters that his men found the migrants who died in the hold, “immersed in water, fuel and human excrement.”

More than 100,000 migrants seeking asylum have arrived in Italy alone this past year.

Chart shows the cumulative migrant deaths from crossing the Mediterranean in 2015. Updated August 6, 2015. Image by RNGS/Reuters

Chart shows the cumulative migrant deaths from crossing the Mediterranean in 2015. Updated August 6, 2015. Image by RNGS/Reuters

Maritime tragedies on the Mediterranean like this one have become alarmingly common throughout the past year.

In April, 800 migrants drowned when their vessel capsized off the coast of Libya. In early August, 200 more died under similar circumstances, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Just this week, 60 migrants drowned when extreme heat caused their rubber dinghy to deflate during the passage.

The IOM estimates that rescues on the Mediterranean have averaged 1,000 migrants per day this summer, and in a report released Friday the agency calculated that close to 250,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean have sought asylum in Europe in 2015.

Migrants often pay large sums of money to traffickers who promise to smuggle them into Europe, most often via Italy or Greece. Lack of political stability in Libya has made the North African country the default departure point for these journeys, which carry migrants largely from Eritrea, Nigeria, and Somalia.

Italian officials have called on the international community and the European Union in particular to act to help curb the crisis, but so far in 2015, the numbers of migrants choosing to make the dangerous journey has already surpassed totals for 2014.

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