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At least 13 drown in migrant boat off Sicily

Bodies of migrants who drowned lie on the beach in the Sicilian village of Sampieri September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Gianni Mania

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - At least 13 people on a migrant boat arriving in Sicily drowned close to the coast near the eastern city of Ragusa, apparently after trying to disembark from their stranded vessel, Italian authorities said on Monday.

Television pictures showed the bodies, all of adult men, wrapped in white sheets lying on the beach at Sampieri, on the southeastern coast of Sicily.

Officials said they had drowned while the boat was floating in the surf just a few metres from the shore.

Thousands of migrants have arrived in packed boats in southern Italy during the summer sailing season this year with refugees from the civil war in Syria adding to the near daily arrivals of boats from North Africa.

Most arrive in the tiny island of Lampedusa, off the southern coast but thousands have also arrived on the southeastern shores of the island of Sicily. Dozens have died making the voyage.

Last month, six migrants coming from Africa drowned after their boat ran aground some 40 metres from a beach near the eastern city of Catania.

“Too often in recent times the southeastern coast of Sicily has the destination of these journeys,” said Ragusa police chief Annunziato Varde. “We do everything we can and mobilise all our resources to limit the damage, like today, we tried to rescue as many as we could,” he said.

Police arrested two men, both suspected of being people smugglers.

Reporting by Wladimiro Pantaleone; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Ralph Boulton