More than 4,200 migrants trying to reach Europe have been rescued from boats in the Mediterranean in last 24 hours, the Italian coastguard said weekend.
In some of the most intense Mediterranean migrant traffic of the year, a total of 4,243 people have been saved from fishing boats and rubber dinghies in 22 operations involving ships from Italy, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Britain.
On Friday the Italian navy said 17 dead bodies had been found on one of the boats off Libya. Details of the nationalities of the victims and how they died have not yet been released.
The bodies and more than 200 survivors will be brought to the port of Au- gusta in eastern Sicily aboard the Italian navy corvette Fenice later on Saturday, the coastguard said.
Migrants escaping war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East this year have been pouring into Italy, which has been bearing the brunt of Mediterranean rescue operations. Most depart from the coast of Libya, which has descended into anarchy since Western powers backed a 2011 revolt that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
Calm seas are increasingly favoring departures as warm spring weather sets in.
Last month around 800 migrants drowned off Libya in the Mediterranean’s most deadly shipwreck when their 60-foot long fishing boat capsized and sank.
That spurred the European Union to agree on a naval mission to target gangs smuggling migrants from Libya, but a broader plan to deal with the influx is in doubt due to a dispute over national quotas for housing asylum seekers.