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Italy rescues migrants on 16 boats

Published 03/05/2015

Migrants wait to disembark from an Italian Navy vessel after being rescued from smugglers' boats
Migrants wait to disembark from an Italian Navy vessel after being rescued from smugglers' boats

Italian Coast Guard and commercial vessels have come to the rescue of at least 16 boats of migrants, saving hundreds of them and recovering 10 bodies off Libya's coast.

The rescues came as smugglers took advantage of calm seas to send packed vessels across the Mediterranean.

The Italian Coast Guard said the bodies were found in three separate rescue operations off Libya's coast. The Coast Guard was being aided by a tug and a merchant ship in at least some of the rescue efforts.

Today's drama at sea came a day after 3,690 migrants were saved from smugglers' boats. Most of those migrants were still being taken to southern Italian ports even as the fresh rescues were taking place.

Italy and humanitarian officials have been warning for weeks that the smugglers' boats would continue to head toward Italian shores unabated, and that spells of mild weather and calm seas could see spikes in the arrivals.

Some of the migrants rescued earlier in the weekend were brought to tiny Lampedusa island, while others were headed to ports in Sicily or in Calabria, in the south of the Italian mainland. Temporary shelters for those rescued were running out of room even before this weekend's new arrivals, local authorities had warned.

In weather good or bad, smugglers often use ageing vessels that sometimes begin leaking shortly after leaving Libya. The boats are crammed with too many people as traffickers try to maximise earnings from the migrants, who pay hundreds of euros for the passage between the Mediterranean's southern shore and Italy.

It is not uncommon for thousands of migrants to be rescued over a day or two.

The relentless flood of migrants is continuing this year after 170,000 were rescued at sea by Italy in 2014 - a 277% increase over the numbers in 2013. Italy has pressed the European Union to do more to help it save the migrants, especially since many of those plucked to safety are asylum seekers hoping to reach relatives in northern Europe.

An estimated 800 migrants drowned last month when their boat capsized off Libya with hundreds of them locked in the hold by smugglers.

After that, European Union officials at an emergency meeting agreed to beef up the Triton rescue mission with boats and patrol aircraft contributed by several countries. Italy, often pressing nearby cargo ships into service, coordinates the rescue operations.

Overall, a record 280,000 illegal border crossings were detected in the 28-nation EU last year, according to Frontex, Europe's border agency.

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