ROME - More than 4,200 migrants trying to reach Europe have been rescued from boats in the Mediterranean in last 24 hours, the Italian coastguard said on Saturday.

In some of the most intense Mediterranean migrant traffic of the year, a total of 4,243 people have been saved from fishing boats and rubber dinghies in 22 operations involving ships from nations including Italy, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Britain. On Friday the Italian navy said 17 dead bodies had been found on one of the boats off Libya. Details of the nationalities of the victims and how they died have not yet been released.

The bodies and more than 200 survivors will be brought to the port of Augusta in eastern Sicily aboard the Italian navy corvette Fenice later on Saturday, the coastguard said. Migrants escaping war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East this year have been pouring into Italy, which has been bearing the brunt of Mediterranean rescue operations. Most depart from the coast of Libya, which has descended into anarchy since Western powers backed a 2011 revolt that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

Calm seas are increasingly favouring departures as warm spring weather sets in. Last month around 800 migrants drowned off Libya in the Mediterranean’s most deadly shipwreck in living memory when their 20-metre long fishing boat capsized and sank. That spurred the European Union to agree on a naval mission to target gangs smuggling migrants from Libya, but a broader plan to deal with the influx is in doubt due to a dispute over national quotas for housing asylum seekers.

The EU plan to disperse 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other countries met with resistance this week, with Britain saying it would not participate and some eastern countries calling for a voluntary scheme. Around 35,500 migrants arrived in Italy from the beginning of the year up to the first week of May, the UN refugee agency estimated, a number which has swelled considerably since. About 1,800 are either dead or missing.

Most of those rescued on Friday and Saturday are expected to reach ports around southern Italy during the weekend. The British naval vessel HMS Bulwark offloaded more than 740 early on Saturday at the southeastern Italian port of Taranto. More than 200 migrants arrived at the Calabrian port of Crotone in south-west Italy on board the Belgian navy ship Godetia. Moreover, A boat packed with more than 700 ‘boat people’ seized off Myanmar’s coast was stopped on a small island on Saturday, as officials gave mixed signals about its final destination.

Myanmar’s navy discovered the boat with 727 migrants off the country’s southern coast on Friday, but have since been tight-lipped on the identity of those on board, as well as their fate.

Myo Win, the township administrator of Hainggyi Island, in the country’s south, told Reuters the boat was taken to nearby Leik Island and the migrants were kept on board while they were provided with food, water and medical help. ‘The boat won’t rest at Leik Island tonight. I heard they will be taken to Sittwe or Maungdaw (in Myanmar’s Rakhine State), to then be sent to Bangladesh.’ Officials had on Friday initially labeled those on the boat ‘Bengalis’ - a term used to refer both to stateless Rohingya from Rakhine state, as well as Bangladeshis. The government later said most of those on board are believed to be from Bangladesh.

The government had initially said it would take the migrants to a navy base on Hainggyi Island, but have since reconsidered their destination, Commander Soe Min, an assistant to Myanmar’s navy chief, told Reuters. ‘The navy may take them somewhere further north, such as Sittwe in Rakhine State.

We’re not even sure yet,’ Soe Min said. The discovery of the boat on Friday came as Myanmar told a 17-nation meeting in Thailand that it was not to blame for the crisis that has seen more than 4,000 desperate Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshi migrants take to the seas across Southeast Asia in the last month. An additional 2,000 people are believed still adrift after being abandoned by traffickers following a crackdown in Thailand.

The boat was found in the Andaman Sea on Friday with 608 women, 74 women and 45 children on board, according to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information. Those on board told officials they had been at sea in three boats since March, during which at least 50 migrants died, the ministry said on its website. The passengers were later abandoned in one boat by traffickers, it said. Myanmar has come under heavy criticism for discrimination against the Rohingya. Most of the 1.1 million Rohingya in Myanmar are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions. Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with Buddhists in Rakhine State in 2012.