Italy rescues 4,600 people from Mediterranean

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Surviving migrants are brought aboard Irish and Italian Navy life-boats in the area where their wooden boat capsized and sank off the coast of Libya August 5, 2015.

ROME – More than 4,600 people were plucked to safety from unseaworthy boats off the Libyan coast, the Italian coastguard said on Sunday, as they took advantage of calmer waters this weekend to attempt the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

On Saturday alone, the coastguard operations centre in Rome co-ordinated nine rescues, pulling 1,123 people to safety from two boats and seven inflatable dinghies.

According to the UN, the number of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe fell by more than a third last month, due to bad weather and a Turkish crackdown on traffickers in the Aegean on the route to Greece.

The 4,600-plus people who attempted the crossing between Thursday and Saturday were encouraged by the calmer waters to set off for the nearest Italian coast.

Several Italian coastguard vessels, along with the German naval support ship Berlin – part of Operation Sophia, an military EU mission to stop traffickers – took part in the rescues.

Late last month, the International Organisation for Migration estimated that nearly 860,000 migrants and refugees had landed in Europe so far this year, with more than 3,500 dying while crossing the Mediterranean in search of safety.