Rome (AFP) - Around 4,000 migrants and refugees were saved from waters between Italy and North Africa over the course of the Christmas weekend, with further rescue operations expected in the final days of an "exceptional" year, officials said Monday.
The Italian coastguard said it had coordinated the rescue of more than 3,000 people over the holiday period while Norwegian ship Siem Pilot deposited 931 rescued people, including 26 minors, at Palermo, Sicily on Monday morning.
Three suspected people traffickers, two Gambians and a Somalian, were arrested when the Norwegian boat, part of a European search-and-rescue mission, docked, according to Italian media.
Coastguard commander Admiral Vincenzo Melone said: "Our efforts will continue in the coming days but we can already say that 2015 has been an exceptional year."
Italy has taken in some 320,000 Mediterranean boat people since the start of 2014. This year however has seen the main focus of the migrant crisis shift to Greece with refugees from the Middle East arriving there via Turkey in much larger numbers.
Nearly one million migrants or asylum seekers have landed in Europe this year after setting off in boats from either Turkey or North Africa.
At least 3,692 have died attempting to make the crossing, according to a count by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).