An Italian border police helicopter on routine patrol spotted the boat, and two vessels were sent out to intercept it, said Maj. Merchiolle Digregori of the Palermo border police office.
Two officers boarded the vessel and piloted it to Lampedusa, which has been overwhelmed in recent months by nearly daily arrivals of boats full of passengers who pay smugglers in hopes of slipping into Italy undetected.
Digregori said Saturday’s arrivals were mainly from Sudan and the Horn of Africa. Eight of the passengers were women.
Unless the passengers have the proper documents to live in Italy, they will be ordered repatriated although many of them slip away during the process and make it to the Italian mainland, authorities say.
Most migrants attempt to rejoin families or find work in northern Europe, which generally has a larger immigrant population than Italy.