Some 100 migrants are feared to have drowned off Lampedusa last night.
They were on a wooden fishing boat which sank some 12 miles from the Italian island, triggering a massive rescue operation by the Italian coastguard and Nato units.
Survivors said that more than 150 people had crowded the 10-metre vessel.
54 managed to swim to an islet or were picked up from the sea.
The Italian authorities were notified about a boat in distress late yesterday by the Palermo port authorities and a search was launched.
The site was located at 2.30 a.m., by which time the boat had sunk. Flares were fired over the zone in an attempt to locate survivors.