Italy rescues 370 migrants, steps up naval patrols

Tue Oct 15, 2013 10:50am EDT
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By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's navy rescued about 370 migrants in the waters between Sicily and Libya on Tuesday as the government deployed ships, helicopters and unmanned drones to help avert further shipwrecks that have already drowned hundreds this month.

A naval frigate and a patrol boat brought some 290 people, mostly Syrians, Somalis and Eritreans, to the tiny southern Italian island of Lampedusa after two migrant vessels used satellite phones to dial for help late on Monday, the navy said.

A Panamanian merchant vessel later picked up about 80 people adrift on a large raft in Libyan waters and took them to Sicily, the coastguard said.

The migrant boats risked the dangerous sea passage despite a shipwreck on October 3 that killed more than 360, mostly Eritreans, less than a kilometer from Lampedusa. Last Friday, at least 34 more migrants drowned when their boat capsized, though Italian officials say the true figure may be above 200.

Lampedusa, which lies southwest of Sicily and just 70 miles from the coast of Tunisia, has been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe for two decades.

Now the Syrian civil war and unrest in Egypt and other Arab and African countries are fuelling the flow of refugees, many of whom have to pass through an increasingly unstable Libya.

Sicily's regional parliament declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, a move that allows it to tap additional funds to help its struggling immigration services.

The reception center on Lampedusa, which is under Sicily's administration, is now hosting four or five times its capacity.   Continued...

An Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) ship carrying rescued migrants arrives at the AFM Maritime Squadron base at Haywharf in Valletta's Marsamxett Harbour October 12, 2013. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi