updated 6/6/2008 11:24:23 AM ET 2008-06-06T15:24:23

Italian rescuers on Friday recovered the bodies of 12 would-be immigrants who drowned after the boat that was carrying them to Europe capsized in waters between Italy and Libya, officials said.

The shipwreck occurred late Thursday south of Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island that is closer to North Africa than mainland Europe, and some 50 miles off the Libyan coast, said Michele D’Andrea, an official with the port authority in the Sicilian capital of Palermo.

He said an Italian fishing boat pulled 27 survivors, including seven women, from the sea while an Italian navy ship recovered the dead, who were all male.

The survivors were reported in good condition. Though their nationality was not known, they appeared to be from countries in the Horn of Africa, D’Andrea said. The immigrants were transferred to the navy ship, which was on course to Sicily.

Thousands of illegal immigrants try to reach Italy each year by crossing over from North Africa in rickety boats. Deadly incidents are frequent. If the immigrants do not have proof of a job awaiting them in Italy, they are ordered expelled, although many never leave, authorities say.

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