ROME – Italy’s navy rescued about 300 migrants in the waters between Sicily and Libya today 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 set out late on Monday when two separate migrant boats used satellite phones to call for help, a navy statement said. They were recovered and brought to the southern island of Lampedusa today.
The boats risked the dangerous sea passage despite a shipwreck on October 3 that killed more than 360, mostly Eritreans, less than a kilometre from Lampedusa. Last Friday, at least 34 more migrants drowned when their boat capsized, though 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.
To try to stem the flow of rickety boats and prevent further tragedies, Italy began today to ramp up its military presence in the waters between Italy, Tunisia and Libya.
Italy will deploy an amphibious assault ship with an on-board hospital and long-range helicopters, five more naval vessels, several more helicopters and an plane equipped with night vision, plus unmanned drone aircraft.
“It will be a military and humanitarian operation to reinforce surveillance and rescue capabilities in the open sea, which will increase safety levels and save lives,” Minister of Defence Mario Mauro said late yesterday when the plan was agreed on. (Reuters)