An Irish navy ship rescued hundreds more, as did a passing cargo ship, the Italian coastguard said. Only four bodies were found, raising fears that the rest of those on board had perished. This year alone, as many as 37,700 refugees have made the unsafe journey across across the Mediterranean from the Middle East and North Africa to Italy. "The Bettica, which had arrived nearby, threw life rafts and jackets" to the migrants in the water, while another navy ship in the area sent a helicopter and rescue boats.
It said Operation Sophia "does not in any meaningful way deter the flow of migrants, disrupt the smugglers' networks or impede the business of people smuggling on the central Mediterranean route".
Boat arrivals in Italy have risen sharply this week amid warm weather and calm seas, and about 20 rescue operations are now under way, the spokesman said.
In photographs released by EUNAVFOR MED on Twitter, migrants could be seen waving their arms for help as they balance perilously on the deck of the boat, already underwater but clearly visible in the limpid aquamarine sea.
The Italian coast guard responded with two rescue vessels to the location some 30 miles off Libya's coast. He didn't elaborate, saying that he doesn't have enough details about the empty boats.
Five migrants have died, but 562 were saved after an overcrowded barge sunk off the coast of Libya - and the moment was captured in disturbing images published by the Italian navy.
Some 650 migrants and the five dead bodies picked up by the Italian navy docked at the Sicilian city of Porto Empedocle, where they will receive food and clothing.
Other rescues have been made by cargo ships and oil rig tugs, as well as ships operated by the charity Doctors Without Borders.
Once they have been rescued, people plucked from the sea are normally taken to Italy and told they must leave within a week.
One 5-year-old boy got special treatment: He was airlifted from his rescue vessel to the island of Lampedusa, suffering from hypothermia, Nicastro said.
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