The coastguard says it is finalizing a major rescue operation that began after three boats drifted off the coast of Italy.
More than 1,000 people have been brought to safety in two Italian ports after the overcrowded boats they were on encountered problems in the Mediterranean Sea, the Italian coastguard said, almost two weeks after at least 74 people died in a shipwreck.
The Coast Guard said on Saturday it was finalizing a major rescue operation that began Friday after three boats were spotted drifting off Italy’s coast. One was south of the Calabrian town of Crotone and two further south, at Roccella Ionica.
Coast Guard videos showed a large fishing boat tossing violently in the nightly rough seas with dozens of people visible on the deck. Other footage showed inflatable lifeboats approaching another fishing vessel full of people.
The Coast Guard said 487 people aboard the first boat were brought safely to the port of Crotone at about 02:00 GMT on Saturday morning.
Another rescue operation involving 500 people aboard a Coast Guard vessel was finalizing, it said. The ANSA news agency had previously reported that the ship had docked in the port of Reggio Calabria.
A third boat with 379 people on board was rescued by two Coast Guard patrol boats and the refugees transferred to a naval vessel bound for the Sicilian port of Augusta.
The body of a young girl was recovered on Saturday near the site of the February 26 shipwreck, bringing the death toll from that disaster to 74. Seventy-nine people survived the shipwreck, but about 30 are still missing, presumed dead.
A total of 300 refugees have died in the Central Mediterranean so far this year, according to the United Nations.
The right-wing government led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has been sharply criticized for failing to act in time to save the February 26 shipwreck off the coast of Calabria.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Italian authorities should have done more to prevent the disaster. Meloni has rejected the suggestion and tried to place the blame entirely on traffickers.
On Thursday, Meloni held a cabinet meeting in Cutro, near the site of the disaster, and announced a new decree with tougher prison sentences for 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 the arrivals, but Italy has recently seen a surge in the number of refugees trying to reach the coast via the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean.
The interior ministry says more than 17,500 people have arrived by sea so far this year – almost three times the number in the same period last year.