The Italian coast guard responded Friday to three boats carrying more than 1,300 migrants that were “in danger” in the Mediterranean off Italy’s southern coast, officials said.
Coast guard ships were dispatched to rescue about 500 people on a smuggler’s boat some 700 miles off the Calabria region, which is the toe of the Italian boot. Coast Guard crews are rescuing 800 migrants from two boats in distress about 100 miles off Calabria.
The rescue comes nearly two weeks after a shipwreck off the Calabrian coast killed at least 73 migrants who had left Turkey. Another 80 were rescued, but more are missing and presumed dead.
Italy stadium full of migrants’ coffins after shipwreck, dozens dead
Prosecutors are probing whether Italian authorities failed to properly respond to the ship being tipped off by Frontex, the European border control agency. Instead of deploying Coast Guard boats for rescue, they sent border enforcement vessels for a law enforcement operation.
Four smugglers have been arrested in the case, one of whom was stopped by authorities in Austria.
Italian ship sinks: Coast Guard says dozens dead as migrant ships crash off coast
Italy has strongly rejected any blame for the shipwreck and is adopting new measures to crack down on smugglers.
Frontex said crossings in the dangerous central Mediterranean Sea more than doubled in the first two months of this year, with more than 12,000 irregular crossings. Last month alone, the number tripled to 7,000 from a year earlier.
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The UN migration agency estimates that this year nearly 300 people are dead or missing and presumed dead along the dangerous central Mediterranean route.
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