Italy rescues thousands of migrants in sea near Libya
ROME - Italy's coastguard coordinated the rescue of 4,400 migrants from boats in the Mediterranean in a single day on Saturday, officials said Sunday as three new rescue operations were launched.
Saturday's total was thought to be the highest for a single day in recent years as calm conditions encouraged people smugglers to leave Libya with boats stuffed with as many paying passengers on board as possible.
The coastguard said it had received distress calls from a total of 22 vessels, either inflatable dinghies or wooden former fishing boats -- all of them dangerously overcrowded and many of them lacking basic safety equipment.
Boats from the Italian coastguard, navy and customs police all took part in the rescue operation alongside Norway's Siem Pilot and Ireland's Niamh, ships serving with the EU's Triton search and rescue mission.
There were no reports of migrants having died during Saturday's operations or prior to the rescue boats arriving.
With military rescue assets at full stretch, the coastguard said it had been obliged to ask merchant ships to go to the rescue of the boats which were in trouble on Sunday.
The rescued migrants will be deposited at southern Italian ports from later on Sunday onwards and the new arrivals will lift to more than 108,000 the number of asylum seekers and other migrants to have arrived in Italy this year.