TUNIS - Nine people drowned Sunday when a ship carrying illegal immigrants of various nationalities sank off Tunisia's northeast coast, witnesses said.
Earlier reports had spoken of at least three dead in the incident off the fishing port of Sidi Daoud, on Tunisia's northeastern coast, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Italy.
A witness reported that six bodies had been pulled onto the beach, and three others were found later. They were taken to a hospital in the area.
Coastguards and the navy rescued 35 people from the vessel, which went down early Sunday, and were searching for more survivors, the official TAP news agency said.
It was not immediately known how many people in total had been on the vessel.
Boatloads of poor illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan and north Africa, eager to start new lives in the wealthy European Union, regularly depart Libyan and Tunisian coasts headed for nearby Italy.
On June 20 a boat packed with hundreds of would-be African immigrants sank off the city of Sfax on Tunisia's eastern coast, with only 41 of an estimated 250 on board believed to have survived.
Among the survivors - from Egypt, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Morocco, Somalia and Tunisia - several said they had paid Libyan smugglers for their passage.
Italy has seen some 1,000 illegal immigrants arrive on its shores since mid-June, despite a new immigration law passed in July 2002 under which people without proper immigration papers caught on Italian soil are deported, and subsequently jailed if they try to get to Italy again.
Rome has also negotiated agreements with countries of departure, such as Tunisia, and was said to be holding talks on the matter with Libya.
More than 5,200 people arrived in Italy by boat between January 1 and June 11 this year, compared with 10,300 in the same period last year, interior ministry data said.