Spanish naval ship saves 651 migrants in Mediterranean

FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2017 file photo, sub-Saharan migrants raise their hands to grab a life jacket as they are rescued by members of the Proactive Open Arms NGO, in the Mediterranean Sea north of Zumarah, Libya. European Union President Donald Tusk said on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, that a summit on migration on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, is poised to take a big step in closing off the illegal migration route through the central Mediterranean where thousands have died over the past several years trying to reach the EU from Libya. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File)

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s defense ministry says a Spanish navy ship has rescued 651 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe.

It said the frigate Canarias, participating in a joint EU mission, made the rescue early Saturday morning off the coast of Libya. The ministry says the rescue operation was carried out “in complete darkness” and that the migrants were from several different sub-Saharan countries.

Canarias has saved 1,958 migrants in less than three months patrolling the Mediterranean.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers’ boats in hopes of a better life in Europe, but thousands die each year in those treacherous waters. Lawless Libya is one of their prime launching points.