Around 5,800 migrants seeking to reach the European Union have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend. The stepped-up rescue operation is ongoing.
The Italian coast guard said that more than 2,150 people seeking to start a better life in the European Union had been plucked from unseaworthy vessels in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday. This, coupled with the 3,700 picked up on Saturday brought the total number of migrants rescued over the past weekend to more than 5,800.
Italy's coast guard is coordinating the search and rescue operation, involving its own ships, as well as Italian naval vessels, a French ship acting on behalf of the European Union border security agency, Frontex, and a ship operated by the NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station and Doctors Without borders (MSF).
The Italian navy said its Bettica patrol ship had rescued more than 570 migrants from four vessels in distress on Sunday, while the MSF said its ship, the MV Phoenix, had saved 369.
The ships carrying the rescued migrants were heading for southern Italy, including the islands of Lampedusa and Sicily.
Libyans send migrants back
Also on Sunday, the Libyan coast guard said it had intercepted five ships carrying 500 migrants off its Mediterranean coast. It said the ships were ordered back to the Libyan coastal city of Misrata, which has a detention center for migrants. The AFP news agency cited a senior Libyan coast guard official who said most of those on board the ships were Africans.
The dpa news agency, meanwhile, quoted officials with the Greek coast guard, who said around 530 migrants had arrived on several Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, a favored route for people traffickers seeking to smuggle migrants to EU territory.
10 lives lost
Despite the efforts of the operation being led by the Italian coast guard, at least 10 people lost their lives while trying to reach EU territory over the weekend. The coast guard said seven bodies were found on two large rubber dinghies packed with migrants, while three others drowned after jumping into the water after they saw a merchant ship approaching.
European leaders agreed at an emergency summit in Brussels late last month to triple the funding of the rescue efforts on the Mediterranean Sea, just days after a migrant boat capsized, killing around 800 people.
pfd/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)