30 Dec 2008

More migrants rescued at sea off Malta

3:12 pm on 30 December 2008

About 140 migrants have been rescued from a boat drifting in rough seas off the Maltese coast.

The passengers, including 10 pregnant women, were believed to be on their way to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The Maltese navy says their boat had no water, food or fuel.

The rescue by the Maltese navy comes amid growing tension between Italy and Libya over illegal migration.

The BBC reports there was a dramatic increase in the numbers reaching Italian territory from Libya over the weekend. About 1500 people arrived on Lampedusa, followed by a further 819 on Sunday.

Authorities say the island's migrant detention centre, built to house 850 people, is under severe pressure.

The Italian interior ministry says more than 24,000 migrants arrived in Italy from January to September, compared with about 14,000 in the same period in 2007.

Italy and Libya agreed earlier this year to step up naval patrols to try to reduce the flow of migrants. Italy also offered to help Libya improve security on its southern desert frontier.