Italian coastguards sent in rescue ships after a call for help reporting 350 people in the water, just one day after another shipwreck had left up to 30 dead. The Italian navy has recovered the bodies of 45 people who drowned on Friday, while dozens of others are still missing in the third major tragedy in the Mediterranean in as many days.
Related: Dozens feared dead as migrant boat capsizes in Mediterranean
With search efforts continuing late into the day, the navy rescued 130 people from the “half-submerged” large rubber boat and was still searching for others, it said.
“The vessel Vega rescued 135 migrants from a sinking vessel. Forty-five bodies were recovered and search efforts are ongoing,” the navy said on .
While the European Union has pushed hard to limit the influx of people fleeing war and poverty, a bout of good weather as summer arrives has kicked off a fresh stream of boats trying to make the perilous crossing from Libya to Italy.
The coastguard said about 1,900 people were saved on Friday from 16 vessels in distress, adding to an estimated 10,000 people already rescued near the Libyan coast in the past four days.
“It’s astounding. We are almost at the level of the Greek islands last year,” said Flavio di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration, referring to a period when thousands arrived there from Turkey every day.
About 40,000 refugees have arrived in Italy’s southern ports so far this year.
But in one of the worst tragedies in the Mediterranean recently, a fishing trawler with some 650 people capsized off the coast of Libya on Wednesday.
The Italian navy, which captured the tragedy in a horrifying video that shows the boat roll over and dump its passengers into the water, was able to rescue about 560 people.
But at least five people died and 100 are still feared missing, according to many survivors who reported having lost a loved one or a fellow passenger.
On Thursday, the EU’s naval force said up to 30 people were believed to have died after another ship flipped over off Libya.
“Three sinkings in three days, it’s very worrying,” said Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Rome.
A Doctors Without Borders (MSF) team in Sicily who assisted the survivors of Wednesday’s shipwreck could hardly fathom their patients’ distress.
“Nearly all of them lost one or several relatives,” MSF head of mission Andrea Anselmi said, adding that it was “hard to believe” that tragedies at such a scale could be happening.
French merchant navy officer Antoine Laurent, who has taken part in rescue operations in the Mediterranean, said the rush to get to safety often led vessels to sink.
“On migrant boats, those in the hold act as a ballast but they try to get out as soon as possible. Yesterday they did exactly that and upset the boat’s centre of gravity and it lost all stability,” he said.
In the single deadliest refugee boat sinking since the crisis began, some 700 people died in April last year, also off the coast of the chaos-wracked north African country.
The flow into Europe via Greece and the Balkans, which hundreds of thousands of people used in 2015, has slowed to a trickle after countries shut their borders.
But more than 26,000 people have already landed on Italy’s shores so far this year after setting off from Libya.
Leaders of the G7 nations, meeting in Japan on Friday, pledged more funds to tackle the migrant crisis.
Last year, some 1.3 million refugees, mostly from conflict-ridden Syria and Iraq, asked for asylum in the European Union – more than a third of them in Germany.