Around 7,000 migrants have been rescued from overcrowded boats crossing the Mediterranean to Europe over the weekend and on Monday, including a woman who gave birth to a baby girl on an Italian navy ship, the coast guard said.

Numbers risking the journey in search of a better life have continued to rise two weeks after as many as 900 people drowned in the worst Mediterranean shipwreck in living memory.

Crew from the Italian navy ship Bettica found the woman in labour on a boat overnight - one of 34 vessels intercepted over the weekend.

"Both mother and daughter are in good health," the navy said. The two, whose nationalities were not given, were taken ashore at Pozzallo, a port in southern Sicily.

Around 40 migrants are reported to have died earlier today after an inflatable boat carrying more than 100 people sank off the coast of Italy, according to the charity Save the Children.

"They said there were 137 people aboard an inflatable boat that deflated or exploded - it wasn't clear - and that some of them fell overboard.

Some said "very many" died, others said "around 40", Giovanna di Benedetto of Save the Children told AFP.

The survivors were part of a group of close to 200 migrants who were on two separate boats and were rescued in recent days in waters off Sicily.

More than 1,750 people are estimated to have died in the waters between Libya and Italy since the start of this year.

Efforts underway to send aid to Mediterranean -  Simon Coveney

Meanwhile, progress has been made in attempts by the Government to send a naval vessel to assist in rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, according to Minister for Defence Simon Coveney.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Coveney said legal work had been completed to ensure that sending a ship would be consistent with the Defence Act.

He said the Government had now begun talks with Italy and Malta to put a Memorandum of Understanding in place that would give clarity on where the ship will operate and allow it to rescue people and drop them to local ports.

"We'd be hopeful that we can do that this week so that we can send a ship sooner rather than later and certainly from a practical sense we'll be ready to go by next week in terms of sending a ship," he said.

Mr Coveney said the LÉ Eithne was the most likely ship to be sent, as it is the largest vessel available.

He said the vessel would be ready by Friday.

He said it would not be practical for the vessel to pick migrants up in the Mediterranean and come back to Ireland with them.

However, Mr Coveney said the Department of Justice and Foreign Affairs was looking at how and if Ireland can agree to increase the number of refugees we can take as part of the overall European effort.

He said he was confident that the Navy would still be able to do the necessary patrolling in Ireland from a fisheries protection point of view.

On the issue of Irish troops in the Golan Heights, he said recent events there were not welcome.

Mr Coveney said fighting on the Syrian side of the territory was now within a kilometre of the camp where Irish troops are based.

He said shells had landed in the base and troops there were sheltering in bunkers.

However, he emphasised that all the troops were safe at the moment.