ROME, Feb 17, 2014 (AFP) - Italy's navy said Monday it had saved over 1,000 migrants taking the perilous journey by boat across the Mediterranean this weekend, including 64 minors and a newborn baby.
Several boats carrying a total of 1,079 people were spotted and assisted since Friday, and the majority of them were being transported to the port of Augusta in Sicily on an Italian warship, the navy said in a statement.
The migrants came largely from West African countries -- Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal -- as well as some from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, according to the local Giornale di Sicilia newspaper.
The migrants were rescued as part of the Italian government's "Mare Nostrum" operation, which mobilises warships, amphibious vessels and aircraft to try and prevent further tragedies like the two shipwrecks in October in which more than 400 immigrants died.
Immigration charities estimate that between 17,000 and 20,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years, often crossing on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies.