Italian coast guards and local fisherman saved all 500 refugees on a boat from Libya early Sunday after their vessel hit rocks off the island of Lampedusa, an operation one rescuer described as a "miracle".
Refugees threw themselves into water in night, with some clinging to ropes strung between the rusty fishing boat and the shoreline by rescuers, as officers and local residents dived in to help along the rocky coast.
"There were about 500 people on board. It was a difficult situation. Our patrol boats couldn't come close because of the shallow water and the undertow was very strong," said Antonio Morana, a coast guard spokesman.
Many refugees including women and children were later seen wrapped in thermal blankets on the shore.
"When the first immigrants jumped into the water, we immediately dived in to try and rescue as many as possible," he added.