Thousands saved off Libyan coast over Easter

A baby being saved from drowning at the sea near Libya during one of the busiest weekends of the year for rescue workers April 15, 2017. PHOTO | BBC 

Thousands of migrants have been saved from the sea near Libya during one of the busiest weekends of the year for rescue workers.

More than 2,000 people were rescued on Friday and 3,000 on Saturday in dozens of separate rescues, the Italian Coast Guard said.

But at least 20 drowned as aid workers struggled to rescue more than 1,500 migrants in one ongoing operation.

An eight-year-old boy was among the dead, rescue workers said.

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (Moas) said its rescue started in the early hours of Saturday and had continued non-stop into Sunday afternoon.

In danger

The group said it had rescued at least 453 people, but more than 1,000 remained in danger.

A Reuters photographer on board the Phoenix, a ship run by Moas, counted at least 20 bodies during the rescue.

Mr Chris Catrambone, one of the founders of Moas, said it had requested "urgent assistance" on Saturday morning.

Have died

"Our crew says they've never seen anything like it," the organisation tweeted.

Italian NGO Sea Eye and the German group Jugend Rettet were also aiding the rescue attempt.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) said its rescue boats Prudence and Aquarius had rescued about 1,000 people during Friday's operations, during which one migrant is believed to have died.

The improving Spring weather may have factored into the sudden surge of ocean crossings.

Wooden boats

The Libyan coastline remains a hotspot for such rescues, as unscrupulous smugglers crowd wooden boats or inflatable dinghies with hundreds of desperate migrants.

At least 97 migrants died the previous Thursday, when their boat sank. Just 23 men were rescued, clinging to a flotation device. In late February, the bodies of 87 people washed ashore in a Libyan city.

Although the Mediterranean migrant crisis has subsided from its 2015 peak, the Libyan trafficking situation prompted EU leaders to agree a plan of action.

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