The Italian coast guard rescued about 750 migrants in two separate operations off the country's southern coast, Reuters reports.

It came hours after at least five people died and 33 went missing at sea while trying to cross into Italy from Tunisia.

About 295 people were rescued from a fishing boat sighted 167km off the coast of the eastern Calabria region, and around 450 others were rescued from another fishing vessel 185km east of Syracuse in southern Sicily, the coastguard said.

Five dead and 28 missing migrants near Tunis

Three cargo ships and a patrol boat from the EU border agency "Frontex" have joined the rescue operation.

Migrant rescue efforts in the sea off Italy have been in the spotlight since the February 26 shipwreck off the coast of Calabria, in which at least 88 people died and more than 10 are still missing.

The boat was spotted before it sank, but police vessels were unable to reach it due to bad weather.

Charities and opposition politicians are questioning why coastguard vessels, which are better equipped for the high seas, were not used instead.

migrant boat