Two migrants die, 500 rescued off Libyan coast
Two migrants have died and nearly 500 have been rescued in the past three days off the coast of Libya during perilous attempts to cross the Mediterranean to towards Europe, the Libyan navy said Tuesday.
Spokesman General Ayoub Kacem told AFP that 473 migrants from Africa, Syria and Bangladesh were rescued over the past 72 hours in four separate operations.
On Sunday, two migrants who had died of hypothermia were found on a boat, while more than 140 others were rescued after 24 hours at sea, he said.
Two merchant ships took part in operations to rescue the migrants "at the request of the Libyan navy", he added.
A cargo ship registered in Sierra Leone on Sunday rescued 141 migrants including 25 women and two children after they sent out an SOS signal using Alarm Phone, a volunteer-run Mediterranean rescue hotline, he said.
The Italian government said it had been in contact with Libyan authorities to help them rescue the survivors.
"After several days of rough seas, human traffickers took advantage of the calm sea this weekend to act again," the presidency of the council of ministers in Rome said in a statement.
Some 170 migrants have died in two shipwrecks over recent days in the Mediterranean, the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR said.
Since the fall and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, the North African country has become a key gateway for migrants seeking to reach Europe.
Today, tens of thousands of migrants a year seek help from human traffickers to make the crossing to Italy, 300 kilometres from the Libyan coast.
Hundreds of migrants die every year attempting the journey.
Controversial deals reached in Libya, along with Rome's decision to close its ports to ships that rescued migrants at sea, have drastically cut the number of arrivals to Italian coasts since mid-2017.