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Italy migrant boat confirmed death toll reaches 194

Coffins (in white) of children are seen alongside coffins of other victims from a shipwreck off Sicily, in a hangar of the Lampedusa airport
Coffins (in white) of children are seen alongside coffins of other victims from a shipwreck off Sicily, in a hangar of the Lampedusa airport

LAMPEDUSA, Italy (Reuters) - Italian search teams have recovered 194 bodies after a migrant boat sank off the southern island of Lampedusa last week, with divers working to bring up as many as possible from the wreck ahead of expected bad weather, officials said on Monday.

The boat, carrying around 500 mainly Eritrean and Somali migrants, capsized and sank on Thursday, throwing hundreds into the water. Only 155 survivors were rescued and more than 300 are feared dead.

After rough seas at the weekend held up recovery of scores of bodies trapped in the submerged wreck, the weather on Monday morning was fine. But officials said stormy conditions were expected later in the day.

Lampedusa, a tiny island halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, has become one of the main entry points for clandestine migrants from Africa into southern Europe, with tens of thousands arriving in unsafe and overcrowded boats over recent years.

Thousands have died attempting the perilous crossing, but last week's disaster was one of the worst single incidents in the decades-long problem.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is due to visit on Wednesday to discuss joint action on the refugee crisis following calls from Italian politicians for more help from the European Union.

(Reporting by Gabriele Pileri and Massimiliano Di Giorgio; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Mike Collett-White)

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