Italy's coast guard said Thursday it rescued overnight 176 immigrants freezing on a small boat and arrested 15 crew on a nearby mothership on human smuggling charges.
The refugees, who included six children, came mostly from Syria, Egypt and Iraq. All were in good health except for one suffering hypothermia.
The northern winter has done little to stem the flow of clandestine immigrants crossing the Mediterranean and trying to reach Europe.
Italy, one of the main landing points, launched a military and humanitarian operation to deal with the influx in October, after hundreds of migrants drowned in two shipwreck tragedies near the island of Lampedusa.
Since then, it has saved more than 8,000 people from the sea, the defence ministry said last week.