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At least two migrant boats send distress calls in Mediterranean

Italian and Maltese ships are responding to two migrant emergencies near the Libyan coast, according to Italian Premier Matteo Renzi.

Renzi said on Monday that ships from Italy and Malta were responding to distress calls from an inflatable life raft near the Libyan coast with 100 to 150 people aboard and to another boat with 300 people on board.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) received a call at its Rome office on Monday from an unidentified person claiming to be on a sinking boat with 300 people on board, including 20 who had already died. The same caller said there was a total of three boats in distress.

According to Italian Premier Renzi, the ongoing rescue operations, coming after the deadly shipwreck this weekend, were evidence that smuggler's activities were intensifying and that Europe needed to unite to fight human trafficking in the Mediterranean. He added that Italy was studying the possibility of mounting "targeted interventions" against Libya-based people smugglers.

Survivors from the fishing boat that had sunk on Saturday night said 950 people were on board. There were only 28 survivors. 24 bodies were recovered. Hopes of finding anyone alive are dwindling. A survivor said that about 300 migrants were locked in a hold by the smugglers and would have been trapped when the boat sank, according to Prosecutor Giovanni Salvi, who is conducting the investigation.

Police in southern Italy said they managed to break up a major human smuggling ring, detailing how the traffickers made money through illicit payments from desperate migrants willing to embark on the perilous sea journey to Europe.

Meanwhile, EU foreign and interior ministers are meeting in Luxembourg on Monday to discuss the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. They will also discuss the situation in war-torn Libya, where up to 90 percent of the migrants begin their sea journey to Europe.

das/rc (AP, AFP,dpa)

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