US Navy rescues 128 Somali migrants in rough seas

ROME (AFP) - A US warship has rescued 128 migrants from an inflatable raft that was threatening to capsize in rough seas in the Mediterranean after a request from Malta, officials said on Thursday.

The USS San Antonio, which is equipped with an amphibious transport dock that can help in rescue operations, was scrambled on Wednesday after a Maltese military aircraft spotted the dinghy.

"We successfully transferred 128 men between the ages of 20 and 30 from an inflatable raft on the San Antonio," a US Navy official in Italy said.

"The raft was being rocked by winds and seas and we had expected that overnight the seas would increase. If they were to be left out to sea they would probably be in the water right now," he said.

"We provided food, water, medical attention and temporary shelter," he said.

In a statement the Maltese military claimed that the migrants, who said they were from Somalia, were transferred onto two patrol boats and were being taken back to Malta.

It said they were rescued around 75 nautical miles southwest of Malta.

Italy this week launched a stepped-up navy patrol operation in the Mediterranean to scare off people smugglers and put pressure on Europe for further assistance amid a growing influx of refugees.

More than 400 asylum seekers have drowned this month in two tragedies in the Mediterranean.