The Italian navy said Tuesday that it intercepted three vessels carrying a total of 1,049 African migrants en route to Sicily.

The vessels were in distress Monday when they were spotted by aerial patrols, the navy said in a statement.

Two patrol boats joined the frigates Maestrale and Euro in the operation to rescue the migrants, who are expected to reach the Sicilian ports of Augusta and Pozzallo later on Tuesday, according to the statement.

The group of migrants includes 91 children, three of them infants.

Italian naval units rescued a total of 730 migrants a week ago

Monday's operation brought to nearly 1,300 the number of African migrants rescued at sea by the Italian navy in the last seven days.

Last October, a boat carrying mainly Eritrean migrants ran aground, caught fire and sank off the shore of the Italian island of Lampedusa, leaving 366 people dead. EFE