ROME (Reuters) – The Italian coast guard has rescued around 750 migrants in two separate operations off the country’s southern coastline, hours after at least five people died and 33 were missing in an attempted sea crossing from Tunisia.
The coast guard said some 295 people were rescued from a fishing boat intercepted 167 km from the eastern coast of the Calabria region, while about 450 were rescued from another fishing vessel 185 km east of Syracuse in southern Sicily.
The second vessel was in precarious state of seaworthiness, and three cargo ships and a patrol boat from EU border agency Frontex helped with the rescue, the coast guard said in a statement.
Italy’s migrant sea rescue operations have come under scrutiny since a Feb. 26 shipwreck just off Calabria’s coastline in which at least 88 people died and more than 10 remain missing.
The boat was spotted before it sank, but police vessels failed to reach it due to rough weather. Charities and opposition politicians have asked why coast guard vessels, better equipped to face high seas, were not deployed instead.