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Migrants’ boat sinks off Italy; 56 rescued, many missing

ROME — Rescue teams were searching the waters off a southern Italian islet on Friday for survivors of a boat loaded with migrants that apparently ran into difficulties and sank a day earlier while crossing from Africa.

Italian and NATO vessels rescued 56 people, including a pregnant woman, and recovered one body, but passengers on the craft said dozens of people were missing.

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Survivors have given varying versions of the passenger count, so ‘‘it’s unclear how many were on the boat,’’ said Commander Filippo Marini, a spokesman for the Italian coast guard.

Initial reports suggested that the migrants were from Tunisia, he said, but their nationalities would only be confirmed after primary assistance had been issued.

Several Italian and NATO ships and aircraft were involved in the rescue operations, Marini said. A plane used for marine surveillance by Frontex, the EU border security agency, was also searching the waters.

A passenger on the boat used a cellphone to issue a distress call early Thursday evening, the spokesman said, and rescue ships were immediately mobilized.

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