They died after a crowded migrant boat capsized in heavy weather as rescue boats approached it off the coast of Lampedusa, an island south of Sicily according to local authorities.
One of the survivors said she had lost her sister and eight-month-old niece in the tragedy.
The coastguard said rescue vessels had picked up 22 survivors, but they feared many other people might have died in the accident – the latest in a long line of sea disasters to hit migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe.
The coastguard received an alert late on Sunday that a boat was in difficulty. Two rescue vessels found the ship, which was already listing, just after midnight about 6 nautical miles from the coast of Lampedusa.
Coffins were lined up on the quay of the small port of Lampedusa as a coastguard ship entered harbor on Monday, bringing the bodies to shore.
Italian magistrates have opened an investigation into the disaster, with a magistrate from Sicily flying to Lampedusa on Monday to lead the probe.