Two women, one of them pregnant, were brought ashore dead as the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) rescued over 100 illegal immigrants between dusk on Wednesday and dawn yesterday in three separate search and rescue operations.

The two women formed part of the same group of immigrants who claim that a third member, a man, was lost at sea.

In the first two operations, two boats carrying 28 and 53 illegal immigrants respectively were brought ashore in the early hours of the day. Among them were six women, one of them also pregnant. The men in these groups hailed from Somalia, Ghana, Togo, Liberia and Iraq.

The group of 53 was picked up from an inflatable boat that was nearly submerged.

Later in the morning, a tugboat alerted the AFM that it had come across another 28 illegal immigrants of Somali and Nigerian origin about 79 nautical miles south-south-west of Malta.

These migrants told the crew of the tugboat that two members of the group, a man and woman, had been lost at sea. Also with the group was a dead woman who had drowned, according to the migrants.

Minutes later, a cargo ship in the area reported that it had rescued a pregnant woman from the sea. She was later identified as the missing woman by the immigrants.

Suffering from what the AFM described as "severe breathlessness", she died before an AFM doctor being flown out to the cargo ship could reach her.

An AFM Maritime Squadron Protector Class boat on patrol was scrambled to collect the group, bringing them ashore in the afternoon along with the two dead bodies. A wave of illegal immigrants reached the Italian coast, with almost 800 arriving in the space of 24 hours, including 400 who were escorted to the shore on a single boat. The rest sailed in on a number of smaller boats.

The influx of more illegal immigrants has lead readers to post comments on expressing concern about the phenomenon, pointing out what they saw as common factors in each incident. Some described the situation as an "invasion".

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