Rome - A Greek cargo ship rescued over 120 refugees believed to be Somalis and recovered two bodies from a boat off Italy's Lampedusa island, the site of two deadly shipwrecks last year, the coast guard said Tuesday.
The refugees were picked up by the Rizopon, which is taking them to the Sicilian port of Augusta, where they are expected to arrive later Tuesday.
“A boat with 123 refugees, including 16 women, was rescued late Monday. Two bodies were found on board,” the press office at the coast guard headquarters in Rome told AFP, saying those aboard claimed to be Somalis.
The immigrants had sent out an SOS signal with a satellite telephone on Monday after the boat's engine broke down and several ships in the area raced to the aid of the stricken vessel.
Italy has seen an increase in the number of immigrants attempting the crossing from North Africa.
Its navy saved over 1,000 people taking the perilous journey by boat across the Mediterranean last weekend, including 64 minors and a newborn baby.
Immigration charities estimate that between 17,000 and 20,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years, often crossing on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies.
The island of Lampedusa hit world headlines in October when some 300 people drowned off its shores seeking to get to Europe.