Italy has been urged to release six Tunisian fishermen who were arrested at sea on suspicion of smuggling migrants.

Supporters of the fishermen, from the south-east coastal town of Zarzis, say their colleagues were simply aiding a boat in distress.

He told our correspondent that the engine stopped working, and they were “floating in the middle of the sea and there were children with us crying… it was a situation you couldn’t even imagine”.

“So he tugged us a little further where the Italian coastguard can find us, and it was at a time when our boat would have only lasted for a short time and capsized and we would have died… then the Italian coastguard came and took us.”

The Italian coastguard doubts the story given, saying it has no record of an SOS call being made to the Italian coastguard either by the fishermen or the migrants.