The Italian Navy and coastguard ships have rescued 5,200 illegal migrants and recovered three bodies from over-crowded boats in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily.

Recent calm seas have led to a wave of migration attempts by people leaving North African and heading to Italy, a navy spokesman told Reuters.

The spokesman added that the rescue efforts are continuing, with merchant ships and a Maltese vessel joining to support the fleet.

“Europe can’t just turn its back on us.” 

Crew members of the merchant tanker Norient Star recovered three dead bodies; however, the cause of the deaths are unknown.

Italy strengthened its patrolling capabilities with the launch of a search-and-rescue mission called Mare Nostrum, or Our Sea, in October 2013, after a boat carrying 366 migrants fleeing African countries capsized near Sicily.

The country has been urging the European Union to join the search-and-rescue mission, but only Slovenia has responded as yet.

Sicilian port city of Porto Empedocle mayor Lillo Firetto said: “Europe can’t just turn its back on us.”

“This isn’t just Sicily’s border, but it’s Europe’s border, too.”

The number of migrants that have reached Italy by boat this year has already exceeded last year’s total of 40,000.

Last month, the Italian Navy rescued 206 migrants and recovered 17 bodies from a boat that had capsized between the island of Lampedusa and Libya.