The corpses of 17 migrants were brought ashore in Sicily aboard an Italian naval vessel along with 454 survivors Sunday as efforts intensified to rescue people fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
More than 5,000 migrants trying to reach Europe have been saved from boats in distress in the Mediterranean since Friday, and operations are in progress to rescue 500 more, European Union authorities said Sunday.
In some of the heaviest Mediterranean traffic of the year, migrants who left Libya in 25 boats were picked up by ships from Italy, Britain, Malta and Belgium, assisted by planes from Iceland and Finland, the EU’s border control agency, Frontex, said.
Naval and merchant vessels involved in rescue operations also came from countries including Germany, Ireland and Denmark.
The 17 corpses found on one of the boats arrived in the Sicilian port of Augusta aboard the Italian navy corvette Fenice, Reuters reported.
Italian prosecutors are investigating how they died.
Frontex is coordinating an EU rescue mission in the Mediterranean known as Triton, which was stepped up after about 800 migrants drowned off Libya in April in the Mediterranean’s most deadly shipwreck in living memory.
“This is the biggest wave of migrants we have seen in 2015,” Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri said in a written statement.
Calm seas are increasingly favoring departures as warm spring weather sets in.
The latest wave of more than 5,000 arrivals will take the total of those reaching Italy by boat across the Mediterranean this year to more than 40,000, the United Nations refugee agency estimates.
An EU plan to disperse 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other countries met resistance last week, with Britain saying it would not take part and some eastern countries calling for a voluntary scheme.
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