The coastguard says it is wrapping up a large rescue operation that began after three boats were spotted drifting off Italy’s coasts.
More than 1,000 people have been brought to safety at two Italian ports after the overcrowded boats they were on encountered problems in the Mediterranean, the Italian coastguard has said, almost two weeks after at least 74 people died in a shipwreck.
The coastguard said on Saturday it was wrapping up a large rescue operation that began Friday after three boats were spotted drifting off Italy’s coasts. One was south of the Calabrian city of Crotone and two further south, off Roccella Ionica.
Coastguard videos showed a large fishing boat pitching violently back and forth in nighttime rough seas with dozens of people visible on the deck. Other images showed inflatable rescue boats approaching another fishing vessel packed with people.
The coastguard said 487 people on board the first boat were safely brought to the port of Crotone at about 02:00 GMT on Saturday morning.
Another rescue operation in which 500 people were brought to safety on board a coastguard ship was wrapping up, it said. News agency ANSA had earlier reported that the ship had docked at the port of Reggio Calabria.
A third boat carrying 379 people was rescued by two coastguard patrol boats and the refugees transferred to a navy ship headed to the Sicilian port of Augusta, it said.
The body of a young girl was recovered on Saturday close to where the shipwreck occurred on February 26, bringing the death toll from that disaster to 74. Seventy-nine people survived the shipwreck, but approximately 30 are still missing, presumed dead.
In all, the United Nations has estimated 300 refugees have died in the central Mediterranean so far this year.
The right-wing government led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has drawn sharp criticism for failing to intervene in a timely manner to save the February 26 shipwreck, which occurred just off the shore of Calabria.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Italian authorities should have done more to prevent the disaster. Meloni has rejected the suggestion and looked to pin the blame entirely on human traffickers.
On Thursday, Meloni held a cabinet meeting at Cutro, near the disaster site, and announced a new decree that included stiffer prison sentences for human traffickers, but no new measures to help save lives.
Her far-right Brothers of Italy party, which won elections last year, had promised to curb arrivals, but Italy has recently seen a sharp rise in the number of refugees attempting to reach its shores via the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.
The interior ministry says more than 17,500 people have arrived by sea so far this year – almost three times the number for the same period last year.