ROME (AFP) - The Italian navy said on Wednesday it had rescued nearly 600 migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa over the past 24 hours in an operation launched after two shipwrecks in which hundreds drowned.
"The Navy has rescued 596 migrants on six vessels," including three rubber dinghies, it said in a statement.
Italy began its operation "Mare Nostrum" - ("Our Sea") a Latin reference to the Mediterranean - after more than 400 migrants from Eritrea and Syria perished in twin tragedies off Italian shores in October 2013.
Thousands of migrants are continuing to arrive on Italy's shores every month despite rougher seas during winter when there is usually a let-up in landings.
A total of 2,156 migrants landed last month compared to 217 in January 2013 and two dead refugees were found on February 18 when a boat with 120 migrants was rescued.
Immigration charities estimate that between 17,000 and 20,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years.