ROME (AFP) – A total 796 people were rescued from boats in distress in the Mediterranean in the last 48 hours, Italian and Libyan officials said Saturday, as unprecedented numbers of would-be immigrants head for Italy’s shores.
The Italian coastguard said it helped pluck 520 people from five boats in trouble in Libyan waters overnight Thursday to Friday after a communications centre in Rome traced distress calls sent by cellphone from the boats heading towards Sicily.
The coastguard then sailed to waters north of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, to help two merchant vessels which had picked up more distress
signals. Two groups of 78 and 93 people were also saved.
There were no details on their nationalities.
Libya’s navy announced that on Friday it had rescued 105 migrants from a boat that broke down off the coast of Garabulli, which is around 50 kilometres (31 miles) east of Tripoli.
Despite the onset of autumn, which usually brings a slowdown in migrant numbers, Italian authorities this week alone rescued several thousand people. The coastguard and
navy say migrants are taking increasingly high risks.