Italian navy rescues boat with 223 mostly African migrants

AFP , Thursday 2 Jan 2014

Italy's navy has rescued 233 mostly African immigrants from a boat in trouble off the coast of the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, the scene of two shipwreck tragedies last year.

The 10-metre-long (32-foot) wooden boat was sighted by a navy helicopter in choppy waters late Wednesday with immigrants from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Zambia and Mali aboard, including seven women.

"Considering the rough seas, the overcrowded boat and the precarious conditions, a situation of emergency was declared," the navy said in a statement.

The immigrants were rescued by the destroyer San Marco before being transferred to a frigate which was ferrying them to the port town of Augusta in eastern Sicily, where they were expected to arrive late Thursday.

A navy spokesperson said the immigrants had been suffering from prolonged exposure to cold weather but were otherwise in good health.

The Italian government has launched a major operation called "Mare Nostrum", mobilising warships, amphibious vessels and aircraft to try and prevent further tragedies like the two shipwrecks in October in which more than 400 immigrants died.

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