ROME (AFP, REUTERS) - Italy's coast guard attempted to rescue more migrants in the Mediterranean Sunday after nearly 3,700 were picked up trying to reach Europe on Saturday alone.
Although it was not a record, the number saved was one of the highest ever recorded in a single day, and raised fears that the tide of desperate people trying to reach Europe has not been slowed by recent disasters.
The deaths of as many as 700 people attempting a similar trip from Libya last month brought renewed international focus to the plight of migrants, thousands of whom attempt the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea every year to seek a better life in Europe.
Italian coastguards said 3,690 migrants were rescued on Saturday without giving details of Sunday's ongoing operations.
Coastguards coordinated the rescue of a record 3,791 migrants on April 12 and another 2,850 the following day.
Saturday's operations in the Mediterranean involved four Italian coastguard vessels, two Italian navy ships and two customs boats, as well as four cargo ships and tugs.
The Italian frigate Bersagliere took 778 migrants on board while the patrol boat Vega plucked another 675 from the water.
French patrol boat Commandant Birot, which was sent last week to boost the European Union (EU)'s Operation Triton patrols dealing with the influx of migrant boats, also picked up 219 people off the coast of Libya Saturday.
It was due to dock Sunday at 5 pm local time (11 pm Singapore) in the port of Crotone in Calabria in the south of Italy, and sailors were to pass two suspected traffickers on to the Italian police.
EU leaders have tripled the budget for patrols off war-torn Libya, from where most of the migrants set out for Europe, after more than 1,200 drowned in a series of tragedies last month.
Most of the migrants rescued Saturday were being taken to Sicily or southern Italy, while some have already landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Several hundred migrants, mostly Africans but also including many fleeing the civil war in Syria, set out from Libya every day on rickety boards hoping to make it to Europe.
Separately, three people died when a boat carrying migrants to Europe sunk on Saturday off of Egypt’s coast, according to security sources and state media in Egypt. In addition to the three who died at sea on Saturday, 31 other migrants were rescued by Egyptian authorities and subsequently arrested, including 13 Syrians, 15 Sudanese, two Eritreans and one Egyptian, the state-run Al Ahram newspaper said on its website.
The migrants were attempting to reach Greece from the town of Idku, 40 kilometres east of Alexandria, Egyptian security sources said. They gave no further details on the identity of the drowned.