A U.S. Navy ship rescued 128 men from a raft after it was spotted in the Mediterranean Sea by a Maltese patrol aircraft, U.S. authorities said, the latest incident in a growing crisis related to the deaths of migrants trying to make their way from the African continent to Europe.

The USS San Antonio, an amphibious transport dock ship, was called to the scene in the central Mediterranean late on Wednesday as high winds and seas were rocking the boat, U.S. Navy authorities in Italy said in a statement.

The men were offered food, water and medical assistance and are due to be transferred to Maltese vessels later in the day, authorities in Malta said.

550 migrants feared dead in earlier incidents

More than 550 people are feared drowned after two separate disasters this month when boats carrying migrants capsized and sank in the waters between Libya and the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.


A Maltese patrol boat carries the rescued migrants into port. The men were transferred to the vessel from the USS San Antonio, a U.S. Navy amphibious transport dock ship that rescued the men from a raft in the central Mediterranean late on Tuesday. (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)

At least 363 bodies have been recovered from the first boat, which sank on Oct. 3, while 34 died and as many as 200 are missing after a second incident just over a week later.

Italy has stepped up naval patrols in the area to try to prevent further disasters and together with Malta has called for the crisis to be discussed at the next meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Oct. 24-25.

Lampedusa, which lies just 113 km from the north African coast, has been a stepping stone for migrants trying to reach mainland Europe for two decades. Now, the Syrian civil war and unrest in Egypt and other Arab and African countries are fuelling the flow of refugees.