4,600 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in three days

More than 3,500 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration (AFP Photo/) (Marina Militare/AFP/File)

Rome (AFP) - More than 4,600 people have been plucked to safety from unseaworthy boats off the Libyan coast over the past three days, the Italian coastguard said Sunday, as migrants took advantage of calmer waters to attempt the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

On Saturday alone, the coastguard operations centre in Rome coordinated nine rescues, pulling 1,123 people to safety from two boats and seven inflatable dinghies.

According to the United Nations, the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe fell by more than a third last month, due to bad weather and a Turkish crackdown on traffickers in the Aegean on the route to Greece.

The 4,600-plus migrants who attempted the crossing between Thursday and Saturday were encouraged by the calmer waters to set off for the nearest Italian coast.

Several Italian coastguard vessels, along with the German naval support ship Berlin -- part of Operation Sophia, an military EU mission to stop migrant traffickers -- took part in the rescues.

In late November, the International Organization for Migration estimated that nearly 860,000 migrants had landed in Europe so far this year, with more than 3,500 dying while crossing the Mediterranean in search of safety.