Over 1400 migrants rescued off Libyan Coast on Friday

Refugees and migrants are seen swimming and yelling for assistance from crew members from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station vessel on May 24, 2017 near the Italian island of Lampedusa. (Photo: Internet)

More than 1,400 migrants seeking to get to Italy were rescued off the coast of Libya on Friday, but other vessels were in distress, according to accounts by Libyan and Italian officials.

“Large rescue and interception operations are under way,” navy spokesman General Ayoub Qassem said. “Today is the day of a massive exodus of illegal migrants toward Europe.”

The Libyan coast guard, fishing and commercial boats were working in coordination with the Italian authorities, he said.

A Libyan oil tanker picked up 562 migrants, including dozens of women and children, and took them to Tripoli, a Libyan coastguard official said.

Another group of migrants, whose size was not given, were taken to Zawiya, 50 kilometres (30 miles) to the west, this source said.

In Rome, the Italian coastguard said it had sent several vessels and rerouted commercial ships to pick up 850 migrants.

However, three other boats laden with migrants were in distress.

More than 50,000 migrants have landed on Italian coasts since the beginning of this year, not counting those rescued in recent days, while more than 1,400 have drowned or are missing, according to UN figures.

Of the 181,000 migrants who entered Italy last year, some 90 percent arrived via Libya.

Libya has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

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