Italy’s coast guard went to the rescue of at least 1,000 migrants in difficulty in the sea between Europe and North Africa on Sunday, the third operation of its kind in as many days.
The coast guard said it had plucked more than 130 people from two rubber boats about 180 km (110 miles) south of the island of Lampedusa so far, and was working to save eight more vessels.
“We are certainly at more than 1,000 migrants” involved in Sunday’s rescue operation, a spokesman for the coast guard in Rome told Reuters.
Better weather since last week has encouraged migrants to make the perilous journey from North Africa, where a breakdown of order in Libya has made it almost impossible to police the traffickers who pack people onto rickety boats.
More than 300 people died last week trying to make the crossing, which claimed 3,500 lives last year even before Italy closed its Mare Nostrum search and rescue mission in December.
The coast guard ship Fiorillo and several cutters were sent to the latest rescue, along with four merchant ships and two tug boats which were diverted to join the operation. One navy ship, two police patrol ships and a Maltese vessel had also been mobilised, the coast guard spokesman said.
Two merchant ships and an Italian coast guard vessel went to the rescue of more than 600 migrants on Saturday who sent emergency calls for help from their packed rubber boats near the Libyan coast.
The rescue operation closely follows the deaths last week of more than 300 people who were trying to make the crossing to Europe.
The Italian coast guard in Rome said the rescue vessels had located six boats drifting about 50 miles from the coast of Libya, after receiving calls for help by satellite telephone.
The coast guard ship Peluso has started the rescue operation, a spokesman for the coast guard said, a day after about 700 other migrants were plucked from overcrowded boats.
Last week’s deaths reignited criticism of Italy’s decision to close its full-scale search and rescue mission last year. The Mare Nostrum operation was replaced with an EU border control operation called Triton, which has fewer ships and covers a smaller area. Copyright Reuters 2015.