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17 dead in migrant ship off Libya, Italy insists it will intervene when needed

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ROME — Rescue crews discovered 16 bodies in a migrant boat off Libya, the first reported deaths since the European Union took over Mediterranean rescue operations, the Italian navy said Friday.

Another migrant died of a pulmonary embolism shortly after rescue crews reached the rubber boat Thursday, and yet another was airlifted in critical condition to a hospital on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa to be treated for hypothermia, the navy said in a statement.

The 16 dead were believed to have suffered dehydration and hypothermia, the navy said.

Seventy-four survivors were heading toward Port Empedocle aboard the Navy ship Etna, which picked them up at sea.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told reporters Friday that the boat was found some 150 miles (240 kilometers) off Lampedusa, 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

The EU operation, launched last month after Italy phased out its more robust rescue program, foresees patrols 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the Italian coast. The Italian-run Mare Nostrum rescue operation had patrolled waters much closer to Libya.

Gentiloni stressed that even with the more limited EU patrols, Italian ships would still intervene to help those in need.

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