Three dead women, one of them pregnant, three babies and another two children were among the 180 African migrants brought to Malta yesterday, the largest number of arrivals in a single day this year.

"The Armed Forces could hardly cope with the mayhem out there," a soldier told The Times. Multiple calls reporting boats in distress reached the army headquarters in Luqa, some of them relating to frantic situations.

A group of 85 was first found by an Italian naval craft, the Fenice, during a Frontex patrol in the Libyan search and rescue region. Army sources said there were repeated attempts to contact the Libyan authorities but the matter kept being postponed and it was eventually decided that they should be brought to Malta. The patrol craft arrived off Grand Harbour late yesterday morning and the migrants were shuttled to Malta in groups of 10.

A second patrol boat arrived later in the afternoon with another 55 migrants and the cadavers of the three women. About 25 of the migrants were rescued by a trawler on Wednesday night.

Another AFM craft brought in another 72 migrants who were spotted in a sinking dinghy by the same Italian patrol boat that rescued the group of 85.

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