Two boats set off from Malta on Monday as the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), a local non-governmental organization, launched a new migrant rescue mission in the Mediterranean supported by the Emergency medical charity and the Italian Red Cross.
The two vessels, measuring 40 metres and 52 metres, are equipped with high-speed auxiliary rescue vessels and on-board clinics, and are each staffed with a 20-strong crew of seafarers, rescuers, doctors and paramedics, MOAS said in a statement.
The boats will be supported by two drones which will monitor the so-called "dead zone" - the stretch of water closest to the Libyan shore where international migrant rescue missions normally cannot operate.
According to the International Organization for Migration, 2,809 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean since the start of the year, about 1,000 more than during the first five months of 2015.
"No one deserves to die at sea and yet last month was one of the deadliest on record with as many as 1,000 having perished in the Mediterranean. Hundreds more will continue to die unless we bolster the professional search and rescue effort," MOAS founder Christopher Catrambone said.
His organization, founded in 2014, has saved more than 13,000 migrants in several previous offshore missions in the central Mediterranean, the Aegean between Greece and Turkey, and south-east Asia.
Other NGOs are already patrolling the deadly sea route between Libya and Italy, such as Sea Watch and SOS Mediterranee, both from Germany.