Italian Coast Guards have recovered the bodies of at least 17 migrants in the hull of a ship off Libya, the first reported deaths since the European Union took over Mediterranean rescue operations.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told reporters on Friday that the boat was found about 150 miles off the Italian island of Lampedusa, 40 miles from the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Reports reaching Al Jazeera said the victims reportedly died of hypothermia, and not from an actual shipwreck.

The bodies will be reportedly taken to the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocle later on Friday.  

At least 76 people have also been rescued, and Navy and Coast Guard operations are still ongoing, according to reports.

Thousands have died in the crossings, either by drowning, dehydration or being suffocated by toxic fumes.

Just more than a week ago, nearly 800 people were rescued from boats in distress in the Mediterranean.

In 2013, almost 8,000 people arrived on European shores in the first six months, and 35,000 in the second half of the year. This year, at least 65,000 people took the risk in the first half of the year, and more than 150,000 people have landed since.

The number is expected to soar past the record 63,000 set in 2011 during the Arab Spring uprisings.

The migrants making the perilous journey usually hail from poor or conflict-ridden countries in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Italy has long borne the brunt of migrants making the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe, but the EU border agency, Frontex, says there has been a significant rise in numbers in recent months.