Rescuers pick up 1 body, save 298 amid heavy seas: Italy coast guard

November 15, 2016 3:41 AM EST

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ROME (Reuters) - Rescuers recovered one body and saved 298 people in the Mediterranean on Tuesday amid poor weather conditions, a day after a rubber boat with an unknown number of people flipped in heavy seas, Italy's coast guard said.

The migrants were pulled from three different rubber boats, one of which had turned over, it said in a statement.

Sea conditions were challenging, with 2-meter (6 foot) waves and winds of up to 25 knots, a SOS Mediterranee spokeswoman said.

On Monday, an oil tanker pulled 15 people from the water about 30 nautical miles (55 km) off the Libyan coast after a rubber boat turned over in heavy seas, a coastguard spokesman said.

The survivors have since been taken on board a coastguard vessel and are being taken to Catania, Sicily, he said. The coastguard would not estimate the number of missing.

Mathilde Auvillain, a spokeswoman for SOS Mediterranee on board the humanitarian group's Aquarius rescue vessel, said rubber boats are normally packed with at least 100 migrants.

On Monday, the Aquarius recovered five dead bodies from a rubber dinghy and the crew saw another person drown but was not able to recover the body, she said.

A boy who was pulled from the water and remained unconscious for two hours and a woman who had inhaled fuel fumes were evacuated from the Aquarius by helicopter.

In total, about 550 migrants, most of them from West Africa, were pulled to safety in five operations on Monday, the coast guard said.

The death toll in the Mediterranean has surged this year to 4,271 as of Nov. 14, compared to 3,777 in the whole of 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The deadliest route is across the Mediterranean toward Italy from Libya, where smugglers have taken advantage of a breakdown of order to pack people into unseaworthy boats.

Arrivals to Italy this year, now at about 167,000, have already exceeded last year's 154,000. While last year departures dropped off from October as the weather conditions worsened, this year the decline has been less pronounced, Interior Ministry data show.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie and Steve Scherer; Editing by Tom Heneghan)



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