An estimated 1,300 people are at risk off Calabria, where 73 people recently drowned in a sinking that has sparked scrutiny over Italy’s rescue operations.
The Italian coastguard has launched several rescue operations to rescue hundreds of refugees crammed aboard boats off the Calabria region, less than two weeks after at least 73 people drowned in a sinking.
“Rescue operations (…) are particularly complex due to the large number of people on board the drifting boats,” the coast guard said in a statement on Friday.
An estimated 1,300 people are at risk.
Coastguard vessels have been dispatched to rescue 500 people on a boat about 1,125km (700 miles) off the region that forms the tip of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula.
Other ships were sent to rescue 800 people on two other struggling boats about 160 km (100 miles) off Calabria.
The coastguard requested additional assistance from a navy patrol boat, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
“The military vessel is advancing at full speed to offer the requested assistance,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement quoted by ANSA.
Italy’s capabilities to rescue refugees at sea have come under scrutiny after a February 26 shipwreck along the same coast.
The body of a boy was found on Friday, bringing the death toll to 73 and many more people are still missing.
Police vessels had tried but failed to reach their wooden boat last week but returned due to bad weather. The coastguards, better equipped to face rough seas, are not immediately activated.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Italian authorities failed to respond properly to the ship after the European border control agency, Frontex, warned them that the boat was likely carrying a large number of people.
The right-wing Italian government firmly rejected any responsibility for the sinking. He responded to the incident on Thursday by proposing tougher prison sentences for smugglers and opening up legal migration channels.
Nearly 3,000 refugees have arrived in Italy by boat since Wednesday, compared to around 1,300 in the whole of March last year.
In a separate incident earlier on Friday, the coastguard picked up nearly 500 refugees near the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, local media reported.
ANSA said 1,869 refugees arrived in Lampedusa on Thursday aboard 41 boats, the highest number of daily arrivals ever recorded on the island.
The Contrada Imbriacola reception center had received 3,000 people, according to the agency.