(Reuters) - Italian navy and coast guard ships rescued around 1,500 migrants aboard five boats in the southern Mediterranean in less than 24 hours, officials said on Sunday.
All of the migrants were rescued on Saturday by two coast guard ships and one navy ship in five separate operations, the coast guard said in a statement.
Three of the migrants' boats were in difficulty and sent rescue requests via satellite phones while they were off the coast of Libya. The Italian vessels spotted the other two while heading for the others.
The migrants were all transported onto the Italian ships and were being taken to either the island of Lampedusa or ports in Sicily, the statement said.
About 170,000 migrants entered the European Union through Italy last year by way of the dangerous sea crossing organised by human traffickers, most departing from Libya. More than 3,000 perished.
During the first two months of this year, arrivals were up 43 percent versus the same period of 2014, officials have said.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)