More than 400 migrants from Libya had to be rescued by Italian coast guards after their fishing boat hit rocks on the small island of Lampedusa.
TV images of the dramatic night-time rescue showed some migrants jumping or falling into the sea.
Others held on to ropes strung between the boat and the shoreline as Italian coast guards helped them to shore.
It came hours after Pope Benedict urged Roman Catholics to show more tolerance towards migrants from north Africa.
At a Sunday mass for 300,000 people in Venice, he told them not to fear or reject the new arrivals, but to build bridges between peoples and nations, the BBC's David Willey reports.
Police official Fabrizio Pisanelli told Associated Press news agency that the boat's steering had stopped working as the vessel was nearing the port in Lampedusa shortly after 0400 (0200 GMT).
Strong winds and choppy waters pushed the boat against the rocks, and threw some of the passengers overboard.
"It was a difficult situation. Our patrol boats couldn't come close because of the shallow water and the undertow was very strong," Antonio Morana, a coast guard spokesman, told AFP news agency.
Mr Pisanelli said three police officers who had earlier boarded helped to control the situation and allow the rescuers to reach the migrants immediately.
He said everyone on board - including women and children - were rescued safely.
Tens of thousands of migrants have reached Lampedusa in recent months amid fighting and political unrest in North Africa.
Mr Berlusconi has called on his European counterparts to do more to help with the worsening humanitarian situation.