The bodies were found during a rescue mission on Sunday afternoon, the Italian navy said in a statement. They are thought to have died from either suffocating in the overcrowded boat or from drowning, according to an early assessment from a doctor on board.
Around 5,000 people were rescued over the weekend by navy and merchant vessels each carrying between 105 and 1,170 migrants on board. The new arrivals were taken to ports across Sicily and mainland Italy, including Salerno and Taranto.
More than 50,000 boat migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, of which some are economic migrants and others are asylum-seekers fleeing countries such as Eritrea and Syria.
Earlier this month ten people attempting to make the crossing to Italy died when their dingy sank off the coast of Libya. In October more than 400 people died in two shipwrecks close to Italy; tragedies which prompted the country’s navy to launch its “Mare Nostrum” (“Our Sea”).
The Italian government has in recent months called for greater European assistance in coping with the swell in arrivals, with Interior Minister Angelino Alfano threatening to break EU rules unless help is forthcoming.