Some 775 immigrants spotted in the last few hours aboard five boats in the Strait of Sicily have been taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa and several towns in Sicily, the coast guard said Friday.
Italian navy ships, which had been sent to the Strait of Sicily as part of the "Mare Nostrum" operation to help immigrants in danger, provided aid before dawn to two barges, each with 200 people aboard, off the coast of Lampedusa.
Two Italian coast guard launches picked up 200 immigrants Thursday night from a barge that was taking in water some 25 miles (40 km) from Lampedusa. Of those rescued, 53 were minors and 39 were women, some of them pregnant.
A coast guard patrol boat also rescued 95 Eritrean immigrants in the early hours at 102 miles (164 km) from Lampedusa.
A merchant ship also took part in the rescue of 80 immigrants traveling on a barge that had gone adrift.
Of these 775 people, 201 were taken to the arrivals center on Lampedusa, which again collapsed as it accepted 718 new arrivals though its capacity is for only 250.
The rest of the immigrants are being taken to other arrivals centers in Sicily.
This is the biggest rescue of immigrants since the start of the humanitarian patrol mission launched by the Italian government after the tragic shipwrecks off Lampedusa on Oct. 3 and in Maltese waters on Oct. 11 that left a total of 400 immigrants dead. EFE