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ROME, Italy — Up to 40 migrants drowned as they tried to cross the Mediterranean on an inflatable dinghy, survivors told an aid group said Tuesday.

Children on board the fragile craft said it deflated or burst Sunday while traveling from north Africa towards the Italian coast, according to a spokesman for Save the Children.

“I assisted a group of minors who disembarked at the port of Catania this morning and they told me that they were among 137 migrants on board a rubber dinghy,” Giovanna di Benedetto told NBC News. “Just as they saw rescuers approaching from a distance, they said the dinghy either deflated or exploded and many people fell in the sea.

Benedetto said the children told her many of those who fell into the sea didn't know how to swim and that the minors think "as many as 40" people drowned.

“They said there were other children, women and babies on that dinghy, but they don’t know who survived and who didn’t,” she added, saying the children’s testimony had yet to be verified by authorities.

Nearly 4,500 migrants were plucked from boats in the Mediterranean over the weekend. The rescue operations came after nearly 900 people drowned last month in the worst Mediterranean shipwreck in living memory.

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