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ROME (AP) — Ships from Italy and France rescued more than 1,400 migrants on Saturday after smugglers' boats ran into trouble in the Mediterranean Sea near Libya.
Italian officials said 1,200 migrants were being taken to Italian ports after several different rescue operations by its coast guard and navy, including helping some 200 people aboard motorized rubber dinghies a day earlier south of Sicily. The smugglers' boats had set out in a spell of warm, calm weather.
In a French operation, another 217 migrants in three rubber dinghies were rescued by a Marine patrol boat and two suspected smugglers were detained in the seas north of Libya, the Maritime Prefecture in Toulon said. All were being turned over to Italian authorities.
It was the first rescue operation by France since an April 23 decision by European leaders to boost patrols after an estimated 800 migrants died earlier this month when an overcrowded fishing boat capsized. That was the largest known loss of life in a single migrant boating disaster — only 28 people survived.
The deaths prompted a humanitarian outcry and a European Union pledge to boost rescue efforts.
A record 280,000 illegal border crossings were detected in the EU last year, according to Frontex, Europe's border agency. More than 170,000 migrants came through the Mediterranean, chiefly from Libya — a 277 percent increase over 2013. Most were from Syria and Eritrea.
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