ROME - Italy appealed for more help from Europe on Tuesday after 17 bodies were recovered and 206 survivors were rescued from a migrant boat shipwreck, as emergency workers described scenes of panic in the latest Mediterranean tragedy.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano urged more assistance from the European Union, a day after Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said: "Europe is leaving us on our own.
"It can't save governments and banks and then let mothers and children die," Renzi said in an interview on ReteQuattro television after Monday's shipwreck.
Mauro Casinghini, the director of rescue services in Italy for the Order of Malta, described to AFP one scene from the shipwreck as recounted to him by a medical worker on the scene, Antonella Godino.
A Somali woman, Amina, gripped a piece of wood floating in the water and held on to her four-month old baby with the other after the boat capsized and sank in international waters between Libya and Italy.
"The waves were lapping at her chin and she was barely holding her baby above the water," Casinghini cited Godino as saying.
"When we held the little baby, we were afraid his heartbeat would not come back. We dried him, wrapped him up in a thermal blanket and put him in the warmest place we could find - next to the engine room," she said.
Casinghini said there were around 250 people on board, most of them from Eritrea, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria.
Italian media cited coast guards as saying there may have been many more asylum-seekers - around 400 people - which would leave dozens still unaccounted for.
"We don't know how many were on board but the survivors told us hundreds," Giuseppe Cannarile, a coast guard, was quoted by the La Stampa daily as saying.
The Italian navy said in a statement that 206 survivors were rescued and 17 bodies had been recovered "so far", increasing a previous toll from Monday of 14 killed.