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USS San Antonio rescues migrants from Mediterranean Sea near Malta

In a photo provided by the U.S. Navy, distressed persons depart the USS San Antonio after being transferred Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 to an Armed Forces of Malta patrol vessel.. AP

ROME - A U.S. Navy ship rescued 128 men from a raft after it was spotted in the Mediterranean Sea by a Maltese patrol aircraft, U.S. authorities said, the latest incident in the growing migrant crisis.

The USS San Antonio came to the rescue of 128 men men adrift in an inflatable raft in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday. U.S. Navy Photo / AP

The USS San Antonio, an amphibious transport dock ship, was called to the scene in the central Mediterranean late on Tuesday as high winds and seas were rocking the boat, U.S. Navy authorities in Italy said in a statement.

The men were offered food, water and medical assistance and are due to be transferred to Maltese vessels later in the day, authorities in Malta said.

More than 550 people are feared drowned after two separate disasters this month when boats carrying migrants capsized and sank in the waters between Libya and the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.

At least 363 bodies have been recovered from the first boat which sank on Oct. 3, while 34 died and as many as 200 are missing after a second incident just over a week later.

Italy has stepped up naval patrols in the area to try to prevent further disasters and together with Malta has called for the crisis to be discussed at the next meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Oct. 24-25.

Lampedusa, which lies just 70 miles (113 km) from the north African coast, has been a stepping stone for migrants trying to reach mainland Europe for two decades. Now the Syrian civil war and unrest in Egypt and other Arab and African countries are fuelling the flow of refugees.

A photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows rescued people waving after being transferred from the amphibious transport ship USS San Antonio to the Armed Forces of Malta vessel in the Mediterranean Sea. Navy Media Content Service/U.S. / EPA