Some 305 migrants were rescued from a boat overnight in a “particularly complex” operation in the central Mediterranean, the Italian coast guard said on Friday.
The migrants were intercepted about 20 nautical miles off the island of Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost part and a frequent landing point for Europe-bound migrants fleeing Libya or Tunisia.
The rescue, which required the intervention of two coast guard units, was “particularly complex” because the migrants were packed on an overcrowded vessel that risked capsizing, according to a statement.
It added that six children and 17 women were among the rescued.
An additional 707 migrants were picked up by charity rescue boats, which were waiting to be authorized to disembark them in Italy or Malta.
The GeoBarents, run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), took 439 people on board.
Another 208 were on the Mare Jonio vessel and 62 on the Louise Michel, another rescue ship. Two people, a pregnant woman and her husband, were evacuated from the latter vessel and taken to Lampedusa.
On Twitter, the Louise Michel said its passengers were “exhausted and traumatised, but relieved to have survived,” and noted there were “several children and babies” among them.
Italy has grappled with mass arrivals of boat migrants for some time. Most are looking to travel on to wealthier countries in northern Europe.
Last year, there were around 64,500 landings, and there were another 604 sea arrivals in the Jan. 1-20 period, according to Interior Ministry data.