(Reuters) – Italy’s navy said it rescued nearly 1,800 migrants in overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean over the weekend, and a merchant ship recovered five bodies from a sinking rubber raft off the coast of Libya.
Calmer summer seas have led to a surge in people trying to reach Italy from North Africa. Italy has picked up more than 70,000 migrants so far this year in its search-and-rescue mission, called “Mare Nostrum” or “Our Sea”.
The number of dead is also rising. At the start of July, the UNHCR estimated 500 migrants had died in the Mediterranean in the past six months, compared to 700 during the whole of last year.
A merchant ship rescued 61 migrants and collected five bodies from a sinking rubber raft late on Sunday after its position was signaled by the navy, said the force. Survivors said 15 others probably drowned.
Italy is struggling to keep up with the increase in migrant boats this year and has asked the European Union for more help in rescuing and housing them.