Bodies of 26 teenage African girls found floating in Mediterranean Sea

A boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean

Salvatore Malfi, the prefect of the Italian port city of Salerno, was skeptical of this theory but said it's too early to come to any conclusion about whether the girls were headed for prostitution. The broadcaster adds that "twenty-three of the dead women had been on a rubber boat with 64 other people".

Italian authorities launched a murder investigation into the deaths of 26 women whose bodies were recovered from the Mediterranean Sea Sunday during a rescue mission.

Speculations are that the deceased women might have been sexually abused and killed as they tried to cross the Mediterranean.

The vessel lowered a "seemingly endless line of black plastic body bags" in Salerno, where they were placed in coffins, AFP reported.

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Among them were 90 women - eight of them pregnant - and 52 children. Many from sub-Saharan Africa, are fleeing war and persecution; others from impoverished nations in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia have made the treacherous journey in search of better economic opportunities.

That's a smaller number than the same area saw in the same period previous year, where 159,467 migrants arrived in Italy and 3,615 people died on the route, according to the IOM. The number who died on that route was 2,639, the IOM says.

Previous year the total for Greece was higher than that for Italy.

Since the start of 2017, 2,839 migrants have died along the central Mediterranean route, according to the International Organization for Migration. The rest arrived via Greece, Spain or Cyprus.

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Since 2014, more than 400,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.

"The overall majority of migrants rescued during these days were West African nationals, but there were also some other nationalities: Bangladeshis, Eritreans, Egyptians, Sudanese, Moroccans, Syrians and Libyans", Millman said.

The route from sub-Saharan Africa to Libya is also risky, especially for women. One humanitarian worker told the Post about women she had met who were penetrated with objects such as guns.

Malfi said investigators would look to see if the women had been assaulted.

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