Thousands of migrants saved as Irish vessel helps with rescues off Libya coast

Some 617 of the 6,500 people rescued yesterday were assisted by the LÉ James Joyce

libya

A refugee from Eritrea sleeps on the Astral vessel after being rescued from the Mediterranean sea, about 13 miles north of Sabratha, Libya | Image: AP Photo

Around 6,500 migrants have been rescued off Libya, according to the Italian coastguard, in one of its biggest co-ordinated operations in recent years.

Images showed migrants wearing life jackets jumping off one of their boats into the Mediterranean and swimming toward rescuers.

The Italian coastguard said Monday's operations included vessels from humanitarian organisations as well as the EU's border agency Frontex.

Italian officers rescue a woman from a crowded wooden boat carrying more than 700 migrants | Image: AP Photo

Some 617 of those saved yesterday were rescued during three separate operations by the LÉ James Joyce. 

The Irish vessel departed on July 8th to assist Italian authorities with humanitarian search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Some of those rescued by the LÉ James Joyce | Photo: Flickr/Irish Defence Forces

The rescues come just a day after around 1,100 migrants, mostly from Somalia, were saved from the Strait of Sicily.

That group was found on eight rubber dinghies, one large boat and two punts.

Over the past year, 105,342 migrants have reached Italy by boat, most of them setting off from Libya.

Many are fleeing from violence and poverty and are desperate enough to risk the sailing on dangerously small and unsuitable vessels.

An estimated 2,726 people have died over the same period, according to the International Organisation for Migration.