The 573 refugees and migrants were found overnight on board “two overloaded fishing boats left at the mercy of the waves with adverse weather conditions that were expected to worsen considerably,” the coast guard said in a statement Tuesday.
A large ship and three patrol boats assisted in the rescue, which took place about 110 km (70 miles) off Cape Spartivento, on the southern tip of Calabria, it said.
Among those recovered was the body of a person who “had already been dead for a few days,” according to witnesses quoted by the coast guard.
A patrol boat transported another person in need of immediate medical attention to the Calabrian port of Roccella Ionica.
The group included 59 minors, most of whom were not accompanied by family members.
The ship was en route to the Sicilian port of Augusta where the refugees and migrants will be disembarked, the coast guard said.
The winter weather has not been a deterrent for people crossing the Mediterranean this year despite freezing temperatures and rough seas.
So far this year, about 10,570 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea, and more than 1,400 others have attempted to cross by land or air, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
About 229 people have died or disappeared in their attempt to reach the continent.