More than 1,000 migrants attempting to reach Europe by boat have been rescued by the Italian navy in just 24 hours.
Navy helicopters spotted four overcrowded boats struggling to stay afloat south of Sicily on Thursday and ships were sent to save them, the navy said in a statement.
The 823 men, women and children aboard the four vessels were from countriesincluding Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Tunisia.
In a separate operation, 233 migrants from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Zambia, Mali and Pakistan were rescued by the Navy and taken to a port near Syracuse on Sicily's eastern coast.
Italy is a major gateway into Europe for many migrants seeking a better life, and sea arrivals to the country from Northern Africa more than tripled in 2013, fuelled by refugees in Syria's civil war and strife in the Horn of Africa.