15 February 2015 Last updated at 19:41 (GMT/UTC)
Bid to save at least 1,000 migrants in Mediterranean
The Italian coastguard is conducting a major rescue operation to try to save more than 1,000 migrants in difficulty on the Mediterranean Sea.
Search teams have helped get at least 130 people to safety so far and are working to reach more, officials said.
There were reports that rescuers were threatened by armed men who approached them in a speedboat from the Libyan coast.
Earlier this week at least 300 migrants perished in the Mediterranean Sea
They had been travelling in dinghies which ran into trouble during stormy weather after leaving the coast of Libya.
Sunday’s rescue attempts took place in the seas south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, officials said.
Armed assailantsAccording to Italy’s Transport Ministry, four men with Kalashnikov rifles sped out from the Libyan shore during the rescue and ordered the coastguard to return a boat that had been emptied of migrants.
The UNHCR says almost 3,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2014, making it the world’s most dangerous sea crossing for migrants trying to enter the European Union.
More than 200,000 people were rescued during the same period.
Many were plucked from the sea as a result of an Italian operation known as Mare Nostrum, which was launched in October 2013 in response to a tragedy near Lampedusa in which 366 migrants died.
That operation has now ended, leading the UNHCR to warn EU leaders to expect more deaths.
Some European countries, including the UK, have said a rescue service for migrants could encourage refugees to continue making the crossing.
The EU now runs a border control operation with fewer ships, called Triton, which only covers waters close to Europe’s coast.