Migrants to Europe: 4,200 more migrants saved off Libya's coasts
17 people found dead aboard one of the vessels
The Italian coast guard says it has coordinated the rescue of more than 4,000 migrants off Libya's coast in 22 separate operations.
The rescues, from 13 boats and nine motorized rubber dinghies, took place Friday. The coast guard said Saturday that 17 migrants were found dead aboard one of the vessels, though officials have not released details of the nationalities of the victims and how they died. In all, 4,243 rescued migrants were being brought to Italian harbours in an operation involving ships from nations including Italy, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Britain.
The bodies and more than 200 survivors will be brought to the port of Augusta in eastern Sicily aboard the Italian navy corvette Fenice later on Saturday, the coast guard said.
Migrants escaping war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East this year have been pouring into Italy, which has been bearing the brunt of Mediterranean rescue operations. Most depart from the coast of Libya, which has descended into anarchy since Western powers backed a 2011 revolt that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
Plan to deal with influx of migrants in doubt
The latest arrivals, following several days without rescues, followed a pattern. When seas are rough or weather stormy, few or no boats set out. When a spell of calm seas arrives, smugglers launch as many boats as they can, cramming more migrants into the boats than can safely be carried. Many vessels soon run into difficulties. The Italian Coast Guard co-ordinates rescues after receiving distress calls via satellite phones from the migrant boats, or when the craft are spotted by military patrol boats or aircraft.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano warned on Saturday migrant arrivals would continue without letup as long as Libya, where rival governments and violent militias hold sway, is plagued by chaos.
Last month around 800 migrants drowned off Libya in the Mediterranean's most deadly shipwreck in living memory when their 20-metre long fishing boat capsized and sank.
That spurred the European Union to agree on a naval mission to target gangs smuggling migrants from Libya, but a broader plan to deal with the influx is in doubt due to a dispute over national quotas for housing asylum seekers.
Around 35,500 migrants arrived in Italy from the beginning of the year up to the first week of May, the UN refugee agency estimated, a number which has swelled considerably since. About 1,800 are either dead or missing.
European Union authorities have pressed member states to share the burden of housing refugees more fairly through a resettlement quota system.
However, an EU plan to disperse 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other countries met with resistance this week. Britain said it would not participate and some eastern states called for a voluntary scheme.
With files from Reuters