Rome - A total of 199 migrants, including 19 women and 17 children, were rescued at sea off Sicily's south-eastern tip, Italian authorities said on Tuesday.
The migrants, most of whom said they came from war-torn Syria, were intercepted overnight on a 15m wooden fishermen's boat near the city of Syracuse.
Police said they arrested five people from the ship, three Egyptians and two Syrians, suspected of having organised the migration attempt.
Tens of thousands of people attempt to reach Southern European shores during the warm summer as they try to escape poverty or persecution, often risking their lives aboard rickety vessels.
Under international law, Italian authorities have to check whether people they rescue at sea have grounds to seek asylum. If not, they repatriate them although border police struggles to enforce the policy strictly.