Rome: The Italian coastguard service said Thursday 264 migrants had been rescued from a boat off the coast of Calabria, where traffickers have increasingly been using smaller boats recently.
The vessel was sighted by a plane belonging to the EU border agency Frontex and the migrants were rescued off the southern city of Crotone, a spokesman said.
The spokesman said the boat probably came from Turkey. Several coastguard boats and a British ship working for Frontex took part in the rescue effort.
In December 2014 and January 2015, traffickers abandoned about six large vessels carrying hundreds of migrants off the Italian coast after putting the vessels on auto pilot.
The boats had started their journey in Turkey.
“It is rare to see large vessels in this zone, in general it is sailboats here,” the spokesman said.
For Italy, 2017 was a turning point: the country went from large-scale arrivals in the first six months to a sharp drop off, thanks to controversial agreements with Libya, from where many such boats set sail.
Throughout last year some 119,000 people landed in Italy, down 35 percent on 2016.
But the route remains perilous. This month at least 10 migrants died and 150 others — children included — went missing off the Libyan coast.