Reports from the area say that the dead were among more than 300 people found on the vessel by the Italian coastguard.
Many were understood to have been badly dehydrated when they were found, while the Italian media reported that 'dozens and dozens of people' had died of thirst and hunger.
A female survivor told reporters: 'We were 300, but around 100, especially women, did not survive, and the men were forced to throw their bodies into the sea.'
Three refugees, including a pregnant woman, were flown by helicopter to hospital on the island for treatment.
Another helicopter lowered supplies to the boat but was forced to abort its mission after some attempted to cling to it.
They had been crammed into the drifting 65ft boat for more than 36 hours according to officials.
The rescue mission took place 104 miles south of the island according to coastguard spokesman Vittorio Alessandro.
They were escorting the boat to the island this evening. Read More