The US Navy has rescued 282 migrants from a sinking boat and five other small vessels in distress as they were traveling across the Mediterranean, the military said today.
The amphibious assault ship USS Bataan and the frigate USS Elrod responded to alerts from the Italian military marine patrol who spotted the boats around 3PM Friday, according to a US Navy news release.
After receiving the alert, the Bataan launched two rescue helicopters to investigate.
Personnel confirmed that one of the boats was sinking, and rescue swimmers were lowered down to begin plucking people out of the ocean.
The US Navy released a YouTube video and photos of the migrants being treated aboard the USS Bataan, where they were provided with food, water and medical assistance.
Five of those rescued were medically evacuated to Malta, and the remaining 277 were then transferred to a Maltese military offshore patrol vessel.
No further details were released on the origin of the migrants or their destination.
Each year, tens of thousands of migrants board dangerous, poorly-equipped boats to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa into to European Union countries.
An increasing number die at sea before reaching their destination, according to the United Nations and even more are rescued off the coast from overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.
Maltese media reported that joint Italian and foreign navy forces had rescued some 3,000 migrants at sea over the past 48 hours in one of the biggest Mediterranean rescue operations ever seen.
Last October, more than 400 African migrants died in two shipwrecks off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, leading EU officials to review immigration policies and Italy's launch of the Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) Rescue Operation.
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