Italian authorities rescued a record 6 551 migrants on the weekend in 34 separate interventions in the central Mediterranean, including a woman who gave birth to a girl soon after being rescued.
The mother and baby “are both in good health”, the Italian navy said in a Monday statement, adding that the infant was delivered overnight on the Bettica patrol boat.
Navy medical staff also boarded the Med Otto Italian tug boat, on its way to Lampedusa, and certified the death of two of the rescued migrants on board.
It was not immediately clear if they were new casualties or part of the 10 deaths reported on the weekend.
The Italian Coast Guard, which coordinates at-sea rescues, said that 2 861 people were picked up Sunday in 17 interventions, adding to Saturday’s 17 interventions which saved 3 690 people.
The Mediterranean is considered the world’s most dangerous sea migration route. One out of every 23 migrants who set sail from North Africa between January and March perished in the crossing, an April report from Amnesty International showed.
Last month, after about 800 migrants were killed in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya, European Union leaders agreed to triple funding for the bloc’s Mediterranean sea patrols and drive plans forward for possible military action against smuggling networks.
A French patrol boat had already contributed to the weekend’s rescues after it joined Triton, the EU’s sea border mission that operates off the coast of Italy and Malta.
Germany has also agreed to help. Two vessels, frigate Hessen and the supply ship Berlin, arrived at the Greek island of Crete on Monday to be loaded with aid and personnel, according to a defence ministry spokesperson in Berlin.
It remains unknown where in the Mediterranean the German ships will be deployed. Along with Triton, the EU operates another mission off the coast of Greece, known as Poseidon.
Meanwhile, a Libyan official warned the EU against plans to bomb the boats smugglers use to ferry migrants. Tripoli mayor Mahdi al Harati told the Times of Malta newspaper that such action would be criminal.
“Children and women live in these [coastal] areas,” al Harati said. “Even if they target the boats alone, what will it solve? The smugglers will shift their business elsewhere.”
“What we need is co-operation and co-ordination between the coast guard operating in Libya and the authorities in Europe,” he added.
Smugglers operate freely in Libya, where a breakdown of law and order followed the Nato-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The North African country is a launch-pad for the overwhelming majority of Europe-bound migrants.
There are two rival governments in Libya, each backed by different militias, and only one, based in Tobruk, is recognised by the international community.
Neither of them has proved capable of stopping migrant boats.