Italy rescues almost 1,000 migrants at sea, one dead

ROME (REUTERS) - Italian and merchant ships have rescued almost 1,000 migrants from three overcrowded skiffs near the coast of Libya and found one dead body, Italy's coast guard said.

The migrants sent out a distress call by satellite phone on Friday and were being taken to ports in Sicily, the coast guard added, without giving details of their nationalities.

Refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa regularly risk the hazardous journey between Libya and Sicily to reach the European Union.

Around 3,500 are estimated to have drowned last year when more than 170,000 migrants managed to reach Italy by sea.

At least 480 migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean during the first three months of this year, compared with fewer than 50 fatalities during the same period last year, the International Organisation for Migration said on Friday.

Three vessels from Italy's navy and coast guard and three merchant ships took part in Friday's rescue mission about 30 miles from Libya's coast, according to the coast guard statement.

Around 1,500 people were picked up from five boats near the Libyan coast last week.

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