Mauro Buccarello / AP

More than 2,400 migrants rescued off Libyan coast

French and Italian authorities said they saved over 2,400 people in 13 search and rescue operations

Italian and French authorities said they have rescued more than 2,400 migrants Saturday after the boats they were on ran into trouble in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya.

Italy’s coastguard said some of the migrants were being taken to Lampedusa, an island off the coast of Italy, and would arrive Saturday evening. The country’s coastguard and navy have taken most of the migrants to Italian ports after about 13 search and rescue operations.

Also involved in the operation was a French vessel that is part of Triton — the European Union (EU) border protection program, which had its budget tripled after hundreds of migrants died two weeks ago after their boat capsized — and two commercial ships from Panama and Liberia, the coastguard said.

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The French patrol ship rescued 217 migrants from three small boats after responding to a call from the maritime rescue coordination center in Rome as part of Triton. It was unclear how many boats the remaining migrants had been rescued from, or by which vessels.

Two suspected smugglers were caught and will be handed over to Italian police, authorities said.

The boost to the budget of the EU's Triton surveillance operation followed a series of migrant tragedies in which nearly 5,000 have drowned since the start of the year.

Two weeks earlier, a fishing boat in which smugglers had crammed an estimated 800 people capsized in what was believed to be the most deadly loss of life in a single boat accident involving migrants trying to reach Europe. There were only 28 survivors. The tragedy prompted a humanitarian outcry and a European Union pledge to boost rescue efforts.

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the main routes into the European Union for tens of thousands of mostly Asian and African migrants fleeing war and poverty, with almost 40,000 people having arrived this year already.

Al Jazeera and wire services                               

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