Updated | Italy rescues 1,500 migrants off Libyan coast, pregnant migrant brought to Malta

Pregnant migrant rescued by Armed Forces of Malta and taken to Mater Dei for urgent medical attention.

Italian navy and coastguard ships rescued around 1,500 migrants aboard five boats in the off the coast of Libya 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. The Italian coastguard was also involved in a joint medical evacuation with its Maltese counterparts on Saturday after a pregnant migrants was brought to Malta for urgent medical attention.

The Armed Forces of Malta said the woman was flown to Luqa in a C/S I-1588 helicopter and taken to Mater Dei Hospital in an ambulance for urgent medical attention. The woman was rescued during a large-scale search and rescue operation of hundreds of migrants in the southern Mediterranean.

An AFM spokesman said that the operation involved the rescue of at least 1,000 migrants with Reuters reporting that the Italian coastguard rescued around 1,500 asylum seekers in less than 24 hours.

The news agency reported that three of the migrants’ boats were in difficulty and sent rescue requests via satellite phones while they were off the coast of Libya, and two other vessels were subsequently spotted by the Italian coastguard. The migrants were taken to Lampedusa or ports in Sicily.

Earlier, Italian media reported that the Italian navy rescued around 318 in distress at sea between Sicily and the coast of Libya.

The Landhelgisgaesla, an Icelandic navy ship taking part in a EU border patrol of the Mediterranean, rescued the migrants. It arrived on Saturday evening at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo.

The migrants included 14 children and five pregnant women. The migrants are believed to be from Sudan, Ghana, Morocco, Mali, Mauritanie, Senegal, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, Palestine, Eritrea, India and Tunisia.

In February, Malta and the Italian coastguard were involved in a major joint rescue operation of at least 1,000 migrants on board 12 boats off the coast off Lampedusa while in January a dinghy carrying 87 sub-Saharan migrants were rescued and brought to Malta by the Armed Froces of Malta.

The conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, especially Libya and Syria, have led to an increase in asylum seekers entering Europe. The number of migrants entering the EU in 2014 nearly tripled to 276,000 people compared to 2013, according to the EU borders agency Frontex - nearly 80% of whom arrived via the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, preliminary figures supplied by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) warned that a record number migrants will drown in the Mediterranean this year if the current death rate remains unchecked, after 10 times as many migrants lost their lives during the first three months of 2015 as during the equivalent period in 2014.

At least 486 asylum seekers drowned in the Mediterranean since the start of the year, compared with 46 in the first three months of 2014.