The Italian coast guard has launched a major rescue operation for more than 1,000 migrants in difficulty in the sea between Europe and North Africa.

Italy's coast guard said on Sunday that more the migrants were located between the Italian island of Lampedusa and the Libyan coast.

"More than 1,000 migrants" are involved in the rescue operation, a spokesman for the coast guard in Rome told the Reuters news agency.

The coast guard said it had rescued more than 130 people from two rubber boats about 180km south of Lampedusa so far, and was working to save eight more vessels.

Improved weather has encouraged migrants to make the perilous journey from North Africa.

Since the beginning of 2014, more than 150,000 migrants have arrived in Italy on unseaworthy boats, many refugees of war and conflict.

About 3,500 people died last year attempting to reach Italy by boat from North Africa.

Source: Agencies