Spanish and Italian naval ships, along with vessels from non-government groups, are rescuing thousands of migrants off the Libyan coast.

Monday's dramatic operation is taking place just 21 kilometers (13 miles) north of the town of Sabratha in Libya.

Groups such as Proactiva Open Arms and Doctors Without Borders are helping take on some 3,000 people who had been travelling in some 20 small wooden boats.

Migrants from Eritrea and Somalia cheered as the rescue boats arrived, with some jumping into the water and swimming toward them while others carefully carried babies onto the rescue ships.

Tens of thousands of Africans take the dangerous Mediterranean Sea route as a gateway to a better life in Europe. Libya's chaos and lack of border controls have made it into a transit route.