ROME: The Italian coastguard said it had coordinated the rescue of about 4,200 migrants sailing across the Mediterranean Sea on Friday (Saturday in Manila), but also found 17 corpses on several of the rickety boats.
Distress calls were made from 22 different boats, many off Libya but also off the southern Italian coast.
The total number of people rescued in 24 hours is one of the highest in recent years but the coastguard could not confirm if it was a record. So far, the busiest days this year have been the rescue of 3,791 migrants on April 12 and 3,690 on May 2.
The 17 bodies were found on three inflatable dinghies, from which more than 300 other migrants were rescued alive, the Italian navy said on Twitter.
The navy’s press office, contacted by AFP, was not immediately able to say how the migrants died.
But the Italian authorities have in the past spoken of the harsh conditions faced by the migrants at sea, where they have to endure extreme weather changes and are at risk of hunger, thirst and violence on board the often crammed and flimsy vessels.
Friday’s rescue operations were led by the Italian coastguard and included the help of Italian, German and Irish naval ships working under the auspices of the EU’s Frontex border agency.
A similar international maritime rescue mission on Thursday saw more than 700 migrants helped to safety off the coast of Sicily after they had set sail from Libya in six boats.
Overall, more than 40,400 boat migrants—many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in countries such as Syria and Eritrea—have arrived in Italy since the start of the year, similar to the same period last year.