ROME — About 4,800 migrants were plucked from boats off the coast of Libya over the weekend and 10 bodies were recovered, Italy’s coast guard and navy said, in what looked to be the biggest rescue operation of its kind this year.
Two weeks after nearly 900 boat people drowned in the worst Mediterranean shipwreck in living memory, the flow of those desperate to reach European shores in search of a better life has accelerated as people smugglers take advantage of calmer seas.
Seven bodies were found on two large rubber boats packed with migrants, the Italian coast guard said, and rescuers plucked from the sea the corpses of three others who had jumped into the water when they saw a merchant ship approaching.
Authorities in Egypt said three people died when a migrant boat attempting to reach Greece sank off its coast. Thirty-one people were rescued.
About 10 Italian vessels, four private boats and a French ship acting on behalf of the European border control agency took part in the rescue off Libya, coordinated by Italy, the country that receives the largest number of Mediterranean migrants.
The private Migrant Offshore Aid Station, which runs one rescue ship in partnership with the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, said on Twitter that it had saved 369 migrants, mainly from Eritrea, from a single overcrowded wooden boat.
Growing lawlessness and anarchy in Libya — the last point on one of the main transit routes to Europe — is giving free hand to human smugglers, who make the equivalent of $90,000 on average from each boatload of migrants, according to an ongoing investigation by an Italian court.
The official Libyan News Agency said Sunday that authorities in Libya detained 500 migrants in five boats off Tripoli and that 480 migrants — from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia — were caught on a farm near the central town of Jufra and 170 more were detained nearby.
Those rescued in the Italian operation were being brought to Italian shores, some already arriving at Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, and others at Trapani, Sicily. More were to be brought ashore overnight and Monday.
Shocked by last month’s record disaster, leaders of the European Union agreed to triple funding for the E.U. sea patrol mission dubbed Triton, but there is still disagreement on what to do with the people fleeing conflict and poverty in various parts of Africa and the Middle East.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said in a newspaper interview Sunday that the E.U. should set up a quota system whereby member countries agree to take in more refugees to relieve some of the pressure on Italy, Greece and Malta — the front-line nations in the migrant crisis.
But Austria’s proposal is likely to face tough opposition from some member states, including Britain and Hungary.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday that E.U. states should be allowed to set their own rules on migrants and that Hungary did not want any of them.
Mild spring weather and calm summer seas are expected to push total arrivals in Italy for 2015 to 200,000, an increase of 30,000 from last year, according to an Interior Ministry projection. Almost 2,000 migrants are estimated to have perished during the crossing so far this year.