The Italian and Greek navies have rescued hundreds of people from the waters off their respective coasts. Each year thousands seek to enter the European Union through the two southern member states.
The Italian navy said on Thursday that one of its destroyers, the San Marco, had plucked 233 people from a 10-meter-long (33 foot) boat that had been struggling in strong winds and choppy waters about 80 nautical miles (130 kilometers) from the country's southern-most island, Lampedusa.
"Considering the rough seas, the overcrowded boat and the precarious conditions, a situation of emergency was declared," a statement released by the Italian navy said.
The passengers, who reportedly came from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Zambia, Mali and Pakistan, were then brought to a frigate, which was ferrying them to the port of Augusta on the east coast of Sicily.
A navy spokesperson said that the migrants were generally in good health, despite having suffered from prolonged exposure to cold.
Italy recently launched a major naval operation in the Mediterranean dubbed "Mare Nostrum," which is aimed at preventing further tragedies like two shipwrecks last October in which more than 400 people died.
Also on Thursday, the Greek coast guard rescued 85 people from a boat trying to reach the EU member state from Turkey via the Aegean Sea. They were picked up off the Greek island of Astypalaia after the captain of the vessel they were travelling in sent out a distress call after getting into trouble in rough waters.
Every year, thousands of people, mainly from Africa or the Middle East seek to enter the European Union through Italy or Greece by crossing the seas in what are often less-than-seaworthy vessels. Those who do make it risk being sent back unless they are deemed eligible for asylum.
pfd/se (AFP, AP, dpa)
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