- An Italian patrol aircraft sights six boats, one sinking
- Two U.S. Navy ships rescue a total of 282 people
- Five of the rescued are evacuated to nearby Malta
- African migrants often pack unseaworthy boats to reach Europe
The U.S. Navy rescued 282 people from six small vessels in the Mediterranean Sea after one of the boats began to sink, the military said Saturday.
Five of the rescued were medically evacuated Friday to nearby Malta, and the remaining 277 people were transferred to an offshore patrol vessel belonging to Malta's military, the U.S. Navy said.
The amphibious assault ship USS Bataan and the frigate USS Elrod received a call Friday from an Italian military marine patrol aircraft, which spotted the sinking boat and five others, the Navy said.
The Bataan launched two helicopters, which found a sinking boat and deployed swimmers to extract people from the water, the Navy said. The Elrod sent two of its own smaller watercraft to assist.
The 282 people were brought aboard the Bataan, and the Navy posted a YouTube video of the rescued people -- apparent African migrants -- looking tired or grateful as they stepped aboard the warship.
The Bataan provided them with food, water, medicine and sleeping blankets, according to the video.
The U.S. military didn't immediately provide further details of the rescued or their destination. But southern Italy is a frequent gateway for African refugees seeking to enter European Union countries.
Men, women and children often overcrowd unseaworthy or badly equipped boats to make the journey, which sometimes result in deadly shipwrecks.
The deaths of more than 300 African migrants in a shipwreck off Lampedusa last October shocked Italy and the world, and led to calls for EU lawmakers to review their migration policies.
Each year, tens of thousands of people are rescued from the Mediterranean, according to the European Union border agency, Frontex. The United Nations has expressed dismay over the rising number of migrants dying at sea.