At least three migrants, two men and a woman, died when a fire broke out on a boat carrying around 20 of them close to the southern coast of Italy on Sunday, police and health officials said.
Dramatic video released by the Italian coastguard and finance police showed the boat engulfed in flames with large plumes of smoke billowing from the small vessel, as officials carried out the tough rescue operation.
Another five migrants were injured and taken to hospital, health authorities in the Italian port city of Crotone said, adding that two of them were in a serious condition.
Two finance police officers were hurt as they tried to steer the migrant ship to safety, commander Emilio Fiora was reported as saying by AdnKronos news agency. He said the ship's engine caught fire and there was an explosion.
Italy used to be a major route into Europe for hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and other migrants, but numbers fell sharply after a crackdown in Libya on smugglers.
However, there has been a pick-up in 2020 although Rome has closed its ports to migrant boats, saying it is impossible to help migrants due to the coronavirus crisis.
Some 18,000 migrants have reached Italy's shores so far in 2020, interior ministry official data showed, compared to around 4,900 in the same period in 2019.