Authorities believe an estimated 300 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean in dinghies were "swallowed by the waves" leaving only a handful of survivors off the Italian coast.

According to the AFP, the victims came from Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Mali and Mauritania and left from the coast of Libya in "four small inflatable boats."

The Italian coast guard successfully rescued nine survivors, but another 29 reportedly died of exposure during the 18-hour rescue—deaths which might have been preventable, the AFP reports:

The 29 who died of exposure on Monday were picked up from a small boat that was hopelessly ill-equipped to cope with waves up to eight metres (25-feet) high, gale-force winds and torrential rain.

Doctors involved in the rescue operation believe some of them would have survived if they had been rescued by a large military vessel rather than the small patrol boats that were sent to their aid.

The report is renewing calls for the EU to step up its Triton rescue patrol, which replaced Italy's respected state-run rescue patrol last year and has been criticized as "insufficient" for rescuing the thousands of people who attempt the crossing each year.

The nine survivors—which reportedly includes three children who were traveling on their own—told officials they had been forced to set off from Libya in the inflatable boats at gunpoint in "extreme sea conditions" at temperatures "hovering just a few degrees above zero," Al Jazeera reports.

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