Palermo, September 17 - The Italian Navy and Coast Guard and several merchant ships rescued a total of close to 1,000 refugees on five different boats in the Channel of Sicily overnight. A group of 133 migrants was picked up by a merchant ship in Maltese waters after the Coast Guard was alerted that their boat was in trouble. They are being taken to Catania. A Navy vessel saved 223 people, reportedly Syrian, Palestinian and Moroccan nationals, on a second boat and took them to Pozzallo, another Sicilian port. A third boat with 105 people aboard, including a man with serious health problems who was taken to hospital in a speed boat, was intercepted 88 miles south of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. The other migrants were taken by ship to Lampedusa. Another 270 migrants who were rescued 65 miles from the Libyan coast after sending an SOS via a satellite phone late Monday were being taken to Porto Empedocle, near Agrigento, by a Liberian merchant ship. They included a heavily pregnant woman experiencing labour pains. A fifth boat, carrying 210 migrants, was intercepted 75 miles south of Lampedusa. Migrant arrivals in Italy from Northern Africa pick up in summer months as sea conditions improve, but many die while attempting the harzardous voyage across the Mediterranean, often in crammed and unsafe boats.
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di Giovanni Pastore