Italy will start the underwater recovery of bodies from a shipwreck off Libya on the one-year anniversary of what is considered the worst ever Mediterranean migration accident, an Interior Ministry official said Wednesday.

Prefect Vittorio Piscitelli, a special envoy for missing persons, said the Italian Navy believes that "at least 400" victims will be found inside the hold of the vessel, which lies about 157 kilometres north-east of the Libyan coast, 375 metres below sea level.

"These are the estimated numbers, but we do not rule out surprises," Piscitelli said at a news briefing at the ministry in Rome.

He said the navy, or Marina Militare, was going to lift up the vessel, cover it up and refrigerate it to conserve the bodies, and tow it to the Sicilian NATO naval base of Melilli, where forensic teams will work on identifying the bodies.

In the immediate aftermath of the shipwreck on April 18, 2015, rescue teams found 24 bodies and 28 survivors. Later, a remotely operated device recovered more victims from the top of the wreck and surrounding seabed, but could not do anything for bodies crammed inside the boat.

Piscitelli said a total of 169 victims have been recovered so far, none of which have been identified. Experts from more than 20 Italian universities have volunteered to try to give names to the dead, he added.

Victims will likely be buried in separate locations, as a plan to create a Migrants Cemetery in the southern region of Calabria, near a former concentration camp for Jews, had yet to secure necessary funding, the prefect indicated.

The sinking of the boat sent shock waves across the world last year, and jolted the European Union into tripling funding for Mediterranean rescue missions to prevent more deaths at sea.

It also led Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to state that its retrieval was a matter of national pride.

"We will go fetch that boat, the one that sank in last month's carnage, and we will lift it up. I want the whole world to see what happened. It is unacceptable for some people to keep thinking along the lines of 'out of sight, out of mind,'" Renzi said 11 months ago.

Piscitelli said the project would burnish Italy's humanitarian reputation and "critically" boost its chances of securing a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council in June elections.

It was not clear how much the operation was going to cost, but junior interior minister Domenico Manzione said Rome would cite the project in negotiations with Brussels on winning extra leeway on deficit targets due to extra migration crisis expenses.

"It becomes hard to tell those arriving on rickety boats" that there are no funds to rescue them because Italy has to respect EU regulations on spending, Manzione said in the press conference with Piscitelli.

The prefect is also coordinating efforts to identify the 387 victims of two October 2013 shipwrecks, including a notorious one off the island of Lampedusa that killed 366. Only about 20 have been given a name, he said.

In a biannual report issued Wednesday, Piscitelli said a total of 1,118 bodies rescued from the sea - including more than 1,000 taken to Sicily - were in storage in morgues across Italy awaiting identification.

Another part of the prefect's agenda is dealing with migrants who disappear after landing on Italian shores. In many cases, they flee from reception centres to join relatives or friends in wealthier northern European nations.

As of December 31, 2015, 34,500 persons were registered as missing in Italy, including nearly 26,000 foreigners and more than 19,000 foreign children, the report said. In 2012, the total number of missing persons was under 27,000.

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.