A rescue operation on Sunday off the Italian island of Lampedusa saved 500 people from a shipwreck. The island has become a destination for tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the unrest in North Africa.
Some of the refugees were small children
The Italian coast guard on Sunday managed to save an estimated 500 refugees after their boat from Libya hit rocks off the island of Lampedusa, which belongs to Italy, in an operation one rescuer called a "miracle."
The coast guard was escorting the vessel when its rudder broke, causing it to run aground on rocks near the island.
"The sea was rough and it was pushing the boat towards the coast," said coast guard Davide Miserendino.
Miseredino said when the refugees jumped into the water, the coast guards dove in after them. The rescue operation reportedly included finance police and volunteers.
"When we finished, to be honest, we burst out crying and embracing. We all thought about those children in the sea. It was incredible. It was a real miracle that we managed to rescue everyone," he said.
All 500 of the refugees were saved by emergency services
Laura Boldrini, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy, thanked the rescuers for "not hesitating to risk their lives to save the shipwrecked."
Most of the refugees were migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia who had been living in Libya. Months of violent fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi have killed thousands of people.
Lampedusa, 140 kilometers (85 miles) from the Tunisian coast, has become a destination for more than 30,000 refugees fleeing the unrest across North Africa since the beginning of the year. The island's immigration authorities have struggled to keep up with the influx of immigrants seeking asylum.
Apart from the shipwrecked vessel, another boat with 842 people reached Lampedusa overnight.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Kyle James