June 18, 2017 / 3:06 PM / 6 months ago

Hundreds of migrants rescued in boats off Libyan coast

MADRID, June 18 (Reuters) - Hundreds of migrants, some of them drifting in rubber dinghies off the coast of Libya, were picked up by Spanish and Italian ships on Saturday, adding to a lengthening list of rescue operations in recent days.

A Spanish navy ship was dispatched to help two migrant boats struggling to stay afloat near Libya on Saturday afternoon, and at sundown it found three other rubber dinghies transporting migrants in the area, Spain’s Defence Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

In total 526 people, including eight pregnant women and nine children, were picked up in that rescue, aided by a ship belonging to a non-governmental organisation, the ministry said. The migrants were headed to an Italian port, it added.

Italy’s coastguard, meanwhile, said a total of around 800 migrants were rescued from rubber boats in six operations in the Mediterranean on Saturday.

Libya’s coastguard had already intercepted 906 migrants on board damaged wooden and rubber boats on Friday, and earlier in the week humanitarian rescue ships picked up more than 1,000 migrants off Libya’s shores.

The sea crossing between Libya and Italy has been attempted by an increasing number of migrants trying to reach Europe this year. Arrivals of migrants to Italy are up almost 18 percent on the same period last year at more than 65,000, Italy’s Interior Ministry said earlier this week. (Reporting by Sarah White in Madrid and Stephen Jewkes in Milan; Editing by Mark Potter)

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