ROME -- A boat crowded with migrants sank Monday in the Mediterranean just beyond Libya's territorial waters, leaving at least 14 people dead, said the Italian navy, which helped rescue more than 200 survivors.

There was no estimate for the number of missing because it wasn't immediately possible to say how many people had been aboard, the navy said.

The sinking occurred some 100 miles (160 kilometres) south of the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa and about 40 miles (65 kilometres) north of the Libyan coast, Italian authorities said. An Italian frigate and a patrol boat rushed to the scene along with two Italian coast guard boats and a boat from the Italian border police fleet. Several cargo vessels in the vicinity also pitched in the rescue efforts.

Medical personnel aboard the navy boats were giving assistance to the survivors. Nationalities of the survivors and dead were not immediately reported.

The incident is the latest in a string of tragedies in the Mediterranean sea involving migrants who embark on perilous journeys in overloaded or unseaworthy boats.

At least 232 people perished in the fiery capsizing of a smuggler's trawler near Lampedusa last fall. Only 155 people survived that capsizing.

In the past week alone, more than 4,000 migrants have reached Italy's shores, arriving in smugglers' boats. Many of the boats set out from Libya's loosely patrolled coast with migrants who are fleeing wars or hardship in Syria, Eritrea and elsewhere.

Italy says it can no longer afford the costs of rescuing, feeding and sheltering the steady stream of arrivals and wants the rest of the European Union to do more. Northern neighbours like Germany retort that they already take in far more asylum seekers than Italy does.

The European Union's home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmstroem, quickly expressed shock over the "appalling loss of life" in Monday's tragedy and offered thanks to Italian authorities for their rescue efforts. She called on member states to "now show concrete solidarity in order to reduce the risk of such tragedies from happening again."

She pushed for implementation of an EU strategy to resettle "refugees directly from the camps outside the EU" as well as "opening new legal channels to come legally."

"By bringing these people safely to the EU, we could prevent them from falling in the hands of traffickers and smugglers," Malmstroem said.

In Libya Monday, the country's naval force rescued 450 migrants, including Eritreans, Syrians and Palestinians, off its coastline, officials said.

Just two days earlier Libya's interior minister threatened that his country would aid migrants in reaching Europe if the EU didn't send more money to help it deal with migrants using Libya as a transit point.