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Published: Thursday February 6, 2014 MYT 4:05:02 PM
Updated: Thursday February 6, 2014 MYT 4:06:03 PM

Italy rescues more than 1,100 migrants in rafts south of Sicily

Migrants are seen in a boat during a rescue operation by Italian navy ship San Marco off the coast to the south of the Italian island of Sicily in this February 5, 2014 picture provided by the Italian Marina Militare. The Italian navy began the emergency sea rescue on Wednesday of an estimated 1,000 migrants from boats close to the island of Lampedusa, the site of a tragic shipwreck that killed hundreds five months ago, in the operation called Mare Nostrum. REUTERS/Marina Militare/Handout via Reuters

Migrants are seen in a boat during a rescue operation by Italian navy ship San Marco off the coast to the south of the Italian island of Sicily in this February 5, 2014 picture provided by the Italian Marina Militare. The Italian navy began the emergency sea rescue on Wednesday of an estimated 1,000 migrants from boats close to the island of Lampedusa, the site of a tragic shipwreck that killed hundreds five months ago, in the operation called Mare Nostrum. REUTERS/Marina Militare/Handout via Reuters

ROME (Reuters) - The Italian navy has rescued more than 1,100 migrants from nine large rafts in the waters south of Sicily, the latest arrivals from North Africa.

Patrol helicopters identified the overcrowded rafts on Wednesday and four navy vessels participated in the rescue which ended early on Thursday, a statement said. The navy gave no details about the nationalities of the migrants.

Italy is a major gateway into Europe for migrants, and sea arrivals more than tripled in 2013 from the previous year, fuelled by Syria's civil war and strife in the Horn of Africa.

In October, 366 Eritreans drowned in a shipwreck near the shore of the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is located about halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. More than 200, mostly Syrians, died in another shipwreck a week later.

Over the past two decades, Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean island of Malta have borne the brunt of migrant flows and have urged the EU to make a more robust and coordinated response.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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