Italy has said that more than 3,400 migrants have been rescued off the Libyan coast. This comes amid stepped up EU efforts to prevent migrant deaths on the Mediterranean Sea.
The Italian coast guard announced early on Sunday that a total of 3,427 people had been rescued from vessels in the Mediterranean Sea over the course of Saturday.
It said a total of 16 ships had been involved in the rescue operations and that the migrants were to be taken to the Italian region of Calabria as well as the islands of Sicily and Lampedusa.
Among the ships involved in the operation were a French naval patrol boat, the Commandant Birot, which has been operating in the region over the past couple of weeks as part of the Triton mission under the command of the European Union's Frontex border security agency.
The Commandant Birot picked up 217 migrants in distress from three separates boats and according to a maritime police statement, two alleged people traffickers were arrested and handed over to the Italian authorities.
The AFP news agency also quoted the Italian coast guard as saying the Italian frigate Bersagliere had rescued 778 migrants on Saturday, while the Italian patrol ship Vega had plucked a further 675 from the sea.
Three people were also drowned when a boat carrying migrants capsized off Egypt's Mediterranean coast. Thirty-one others were rescued and detained, according to Egyptian state media.
Single disaster spurs action
The increased efforts by European countries to rescue migrants fleeing war and poverty in places like war-torn Syria, Libya or sub-Saharan Africa come after a single incident last month in which one migrant boat seeking to make the journey across the Mediterranean to EU territory capsized, killing more than 700 people.
This led EU leaders to convene an emergency summit in Brussels, where they agreed to contribute more funding and equipment to efforts to prevent further loss of life on the Mediterranean. Among the countries that pledged to send more naval vessels to the Mediterranean were Germany, France and Britain.
pfd/bk (dpa, AFP)