On becalmed sea, Italy rescues nearly 4,000 migrants in 24 hours

Italy's coast guard reported that more boats have begun sailing from North Africa as the crossing is smoother. The rescues took place over the course of one day and involved many vessels. 

Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters
Migrant Offshore Aid Station founder Regina Catrambone of Italy watches as the MV Phoenix sails from Malta on May 2, 2015. The 40-metre ship MV Phoenix left Malta on Saturday for a six-month mission to search for and rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. The Phoenix is the first privately funded vessel to operate in the Mediterranean.

Ships rescued 3,690 migrants in just one day from smugglers' boats on the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast, the Italian Coast Guard said Sunday.

The agency said 17 different rescue operations were carried out Saturday after smugglers took advantage of calm seas and warm weather to move the migrants out of Africa on motorized rubber dinghies and fishing boats.

Some of the migrants were being brought Sunday to ports in Sicily while others were expected to reach Calabria, in the south of the Italian mainland, on Monday, as temporary shelters for those rescued were reaching full capacity on the Mediterranean island.

While there was no issue with the weather, the smugglers often use include aging vessels that sometimes begin leaking shortly after leaving Libya. The boats are crammed with too many people as traffickers try to maximize earnings off the migrants, who pay hundreds of euros (dollars) for the passage between the Mediterranean's southern shore and Italy.

It is not uncommon for thousands of migrants to be rescued over a day or two.

The relentless flood of migrants is continuing this year after 170,000 were rescued at sea by Italy in 2014 — a 277 percent increase over the numbers in 2013. Italy has pressed the European Union to do more to help it save the migrants, especially since many of those plucked to safety are asylum seekers hoping to reach relatives in northern Europe.

An estimated 800 migrants drowned last month when their boat capsized off Libya with hundreds of them locked in the hold by smugglers. After that, European Union officials at an emergency meeting agreed to beef up the Triton rescue mission with boats and patrol aircraft contributed by several countries. Italy, often pressing nearby cargo ships into service, coordinates the rescue operations.

Overall, a record 280,000 illegal border crossings were detected in the 28-nation EU last year, according to Frontex, Europe's border agency.

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