Three hundred migrants fleeing the violence in Libya have been rescued off the coast of Italy [GALLO images]

Italian coast guards have rescued more than 300 migrants fleeing Libya after their boat ran into difficulties off the small Italian island of Lampedusa.

Italian officials said on Thursday that the boat, described as about 20 metres long, had been drifting off the coast for several hours.

The incident is the latest in a wave of arrivals since a western alliance began a military campaign to oust Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Al Jazeera's Karl Stagno-Navarra reporting from Valetta said:"It is a difficult and complicated nigth for the rescue workers in Malta and the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.

"Earlier today we know of a hundred migrants that have been reportedly thrown over bored after they died of thirst and hunger because the boat was drifting for at least three days. The boat was rescued by the Italian coast guard and taken in."

Navarra spoke of dramatic scenes as the Italians attempted to save the migrants.

"Some migrants jumped into the water as they attempted to seek safety onboard the rescue vessels, even the rescue helicopters had to leave the area because there was a risk that all the migrants would try to attempt to get into the rescue basket that was lowered from the air and risk bringing down the helicopter."    

Earlier this week Italian coast guards found the bodies of 25 men on another boat crammed with African migrants. The men had apparently died of asphyxiation.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies