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MADRID (Reuters) - Two people were found dead as more than 200 migrants adrift in two dinghies off the Libyan coast were rescued by the Spanish navy on Sunday, the Spanish Defence Ministry said on Monday.

In total, 229 people were picked up after a Spanish navy ship was dispatched to help the boats struggling to stay afloat.

After the rescue mission was completed the migrants were transferred to a Swedish ship, which is also part of a wider European response to tackle human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Mediterranean Sea, and taken to Italy.

Half a million people have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy over the past four years, mainly sub-Saharan Africans who pay smugglers to shepherd them across the desert to Libya, and onward to Europe in unseaworthy dinghies.

An estimated 13,000 of them have drowned.

(Reporting By Jesús Aguado; editing by Emma Pinedo and Pritha Sarkar)

Reuters