ROME, April 2 The Italian navy rescued 730
people aboard two overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean Sea
south of Sicily, officials said on Wednesday, as the numbers of
migrant boats crossing from North Africa surges in the mild
The migrants, including 124 women and 29 children, were
taken aboard the amphibious assault ship San Giorgio and another
vessel late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday, a navy statement
said. They were being taken to a port in Sicily.
Calm sea conditions saw more than 4,000 migrants rescued
from the seas off Italy over four days late last month.
Italy is a major gateway into Europe for migrants who come
by sea from North Africa. The number of arrivals tripled to more
than 40,000 in 2013 from the previous year, fuelled by Syria's
civil war and conflict in the Horn of Africa.
In October, at least 366 Eritreans drowned in a shipwreck
near the shore of the Italian island of Lampedusa, about halfway
between Sicily and Tunisia. More than 200, mostly Syrians, died
in another shipwreck a week later.
The shipwrecks prompted the government to put its navy on
permanent mission in the waters between Sicily and North Africa.
Italy has repeatedly asked the EU to take on a greater role in
policing its seas because two-thirds of the migrants move on to
other countries in the region after being rescued.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Louise Ireland)