ROME, June 30 (Xinhua) - Over 1,600 migrants were rescued in the last 48 hours in the Strait of Sicily, Italian navy said on Monday.
Between 27 and 30 people were found dead aboard a craft carrying 590 immigrants that was rescued by a military vessel on Sunday night, the navy added. They were believed to have suffocated in the overcrowded boat.
The exact number of victims was still unclear on Monday, since the bodies were lying in the narrowest part of the ship and were impossible to reach, ANSA news agency reported.
With these latest rescue operations carried out by navy and coast guard in the Mediterranean Sea, the total number of migrants arrived to Italy from African coasts reached 60,000 since January 2014. Authorities seemed to expect this inflow to exceed a record high number of 100,000 people by the end of the year.
According to the navy, the coast guard rescued a first boat carrying 416 migrants on board on Friday.
Other four crafts were reached by "Grecale" military vessel between Saturday and Sunday: one of those boats had 227 migrants aboard and was rescued before sinking; another inflatable boat was found with 218 people on board, 39 children and 29 women among them; a third one with 84.
The fourth craft rescued by Grecale was carrying 327 migrants.
Another navy's ship saved the last 382 migrants in two separate rescue actions, always during the weekend.
On the whole, 1,654 migrants were rescued. All of them were believed to come from African coasts through the routes of illegal immigration and all were to be carried to the Sicilian port of Pozzallo to be assisted and then sorted out among different reception centres.
On June 14th, another 40 migrants were rescued and 10 were found dead after a major shipwreck occurred off the coasts of Sicily. According to navy and migrants' accounts, the final number of victims in that episode might be much higher since some 80- 90 migrants were believed to be missing after the boat was caught in a storm 40 miles off Libya.
Italy launched a major rescue operation called Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) in October 2013, after two similar events had occurred off the coasts of the tiny island of Lampedusa causing the death of more than 400 migrants. The disaster shocked Italy's public opinion and authorities at the time.
The sea patrols are carried out in the Strait of Sicily and along African coasts, especially before Libya, and are meant to tackle the inflow and try to save those who undertake the perilous journey to Europe in what usually are very unsafe conditions.
The Mare Nostrum operation is backed by the European Union (EU), and, since its beginning, Italy has appealed to EU partners to take a bigger part in the plan, and to Brussels' authorities to develop a better common strategy regarding illegal immigration.
According to Italian authorities, a main part of this massive inflow consists of people running away from wars or humanitarian crisis. They would mostly look for asylum and try to reach Italy as one of the easiest gateway to Europe. As such, Italy said, the situation should be handled as a common problem.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's cabinet has repeatedly declared this would be a major point to address during the upcoming Italian semester of Presidency of the European Union due to begin on July 1st.