Rescuers save more than 900 migrants in Mediterranean; 10 die

Rescuers save more than 900 migrants in Mediterranean; 10 die
An officer carries a baby as rescued migrants disembark from an Italian coast guard vessel in the Sicilian town of Porto Empedocle on March 4. (Francesco Malavolta / Associated Press)

Ten migrants drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to cross from Libya to Italy, officials said Wednesday, but rescue vessels saved more than 900 others.

Italian coast guard vessels teamed with passing merchant ships to rescue 941 migrants and refugees from seven vessels about 50 miles off the coast of Libya, Italian officials said.


One coast guard ship picked up 121 people from a capsized vessel but spotted or picked up the bodies of 10 who had drowned, authorities said.

The survivors were being taken to ports in Sicily on Wednesday, a day after their rescue. They were to be taken to migrant centers.

About 170,000 people fleeing war, oppression and poverty in their home countries have sailed to Italy in the last year, with over 3,000 drowning in the attempt. An estimated 8,000 had already sailed this year before the new arrivals were taken in Tuesday, about a 78% increase over the number during the same period last year. About 300 migrants are believed to have drowned last month.

The Italian coast guard said those saved Tuesday claimed to be Syrians, Palestinians, Libyans, Tunisians or from sub-Saharan Africa. More than 30 children and 50 pregnant women were among those picked up, officials said.

The increase in arrivals coincides with an increase in violence in lawless Libya, the jumping-off point for most of the migrants.

The lion's share of the rescue work has been undertaken by the Italian coast guard, which has stepped into the breach since the Italian government shut down a navy rescue operation last year.

A European Union mission was meant to replace the navy operation, known was Mare Nostrum. However, EU ships dispatched do not normally stray more than 30 nautical miles from the Italian coast, far from where migrant ships can sink at sea.

On Wednesday, Italian lawmaker Khalid Chaouki condemned "this unexplainable European indifference that leads us to tally, yet again, victims of the Mediterranean."

But Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European migration and home affairs commissioner, said any blame should fall to European member states who have held back on funding the EU mission.

"If we want Frontex to do more, we have to give it more resources", he added, referring to the EU's migrant agency.

Kington is a special correspondent.