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Nato ship failed to help dying migrants

Italy's Foreign Minister has called on Nato to investigate reports that an alliance warship failed to come to the rescue of a boat stranded off the coast of Libya for nearly a week, and that scores of migrants aboard may have died for lack of food and water.

Franco Frattini also told Italy's Nato ambassador yesterday to ask the alliance to consider the care of civilians fleeing Libya on rickety boats as part of the UN resolution that allows military action to protect civilians.

Around 24,000 migrants have reached Italy by sea since the bombing campaign began against Muammar Gaddafi's regime in March.

In the latest reported tragedy, the Italian coast guard rescued hundreds of people on a ship stranded between Libya and the remote southern Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday.

Unconfirmed reports from passengers said that another hundred may have died with their bodies thrown overboard. The Italian media said the dead included women and children. The reports said the boat sent an SOS to a nearby Nato warship, but received no help or response while being stranded for six days.

The alliance's command in Naples said that it was looking into the reports but had no immediate comment.