ROME: Naval vessels from Italy and Ireland rescued hundreds of migrants from smuggler boats in the Mediterranean, as ships from several countries, including Britain, coped Saturday with waves of people setting sail from Libya in human trafficking operations.
Italian navy ship Driade rescued 560 migrants, including women and children, on Saturday in an hours-long operation after a smuggler's boat ran into problems, the navy said.
An Irish naval vessel, LE Eithne, rescued 310 people, including 39 minors, who were on a barge about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of the Libyan coast, the Irish Defense Forces said. The LE Eithne on Friday had rescued 113 persons.
Among ships tasked with rescue duties was a British warship, the HMS Bulwark, which was steaming toward the area to help a number of migrant boats during the search and rescue mission, the British defense ministry said. Two British helicopters helped pinpoint migrant boats in distress.
Italy has pressed European partners to do more to help it rescue and shelter masses of migrants fleeing poverty, persecution and conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Last year, Italy brought 170,000 rescued migrants to Italian ports.
So far this year, tens of thousands of migrants have arrived in Italy, with many rescued by vessels from Ireland, Malta, Britain and elsewhere. Italy's coast guard frequently dispatches nearby cargo ships to go to the rescue. Humanitarian organizations also help with rescues at sea, which often occur when smugglers set sail a dozen or more boats when seas are calm.
Earlier Saturday, police in Sicily detained a suspected migrant smuggler who they said tried a new tactic of putting only a few passengers aboard a small boat in a bid to land undetected on Italian shores. Ragusa police said a Tunisian man was detained for investigation of smuggling after 12 fellow Tunisians aboard a wooden boat told authorities he promised to sail them to an isolated beach near Trapani, western Sicily, at night so they could slip away undetected. Instead, police say the suspect bungled the route and was spotted by an Italian naval vessel.
Separately, a Gambian skipper suspected of smuggling 116 African migrants was detained by Italian police.