More than 1,300 migrants have been rescued in three separate operations off the southern tip of Italy, the coastguard said on Saturday, two weeks after at least 74 people died when their boat hit rocks near the coast.
Growing numbers of migrant arrivals have piled pressure on Italy’s conservative government, which took office last October promising to reduce the flow only to see a sharp increase in such landings this year from both North Africa and Turkey.
The coastguard said one of its vessels had taken 500 migrants off one boat more than 100 miles (160 km) out to sea, and subsequently took them to the city of Reggio Calabria.
A further 379 migrants were removed from a separate vessel in the same vicinity and will be brought to land shortly.
“The rescues (were) complex due to the boats being overloaded with migrants and the unfavourable sea conditions,” the coastguard said in a statement.
Another packed fishing boat carrying 487 migrants was escorted into the Calabrian port of Crotone, lashed to a tug to help give it stability.
Local officials said a further 200 people had been picked up off the coast of Sicily and would be ferried to Catania later in the day, while the airforce was flying migrants out of a packed reception centre on the island of Lampedusa.
More than 17,000 people have reached Italy so far this year, including around 4,000 this week, compared to 6,000 in the first 2-1/2 months of 2022. Hundreds have also died trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe.