WARSAW (AFP) -- More than 5,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean since Friday, according to Frontex, the European Union's border agency.
The rescue mission, which started Friday, focused on a group of Libyan migrants travelling aboard 25 boats, said Frontex, adding that five other operations were in place to rescue another 500 migrants.
According to the agency, rescuers discovered 17 bodies during the operation, confirming the toll given by the Italian coastguard.
British, Maltese, Belgian and Italian ships took part in the operation, along with Icelandic and Finnish planes.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 45,000 illegal migrants have arrived in Italy.
According to the International Organization for Migration, around 1,770 men, women and children have died or disappeared making the perilous journey.
The worst Mediterranean disaster in decades took place in April, when a trawler packed with migrants capsized off the coast of Libya, killing around 800 people.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised Saturday to salvage the trawler to give the victims a proper burial.
Italy is not the only European country that has seen a surge in the number of migrants fleeing conflict or hardship in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Greece too has seen an increase in the number of people trying to reach Europe's shores in rickety boats.
The European Union has been debating a controversial quota system to handle the huge number of arrivals.
On Wednesday, the European Commission asked EU member states to taken in 40,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea that had arrived in Italy and Greece.