Hundreds of migrants have been rescued from an overcrowded fishing boat in international waters off Malta after a complex 11-hour operation in stormy seas, the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity said on Wednesday.
MSF said its Geo Barents vessel struggled with the rescue, concluded late on Tuesday, due to the rough weather and initially could do little more than throw life jackets to the 440 migrants and monitor their situation.
Alarm Phone, a charity that picks up distress calls from migrants crossing the central Mediterranean, had warned two days ago that the boat was in difficulty, prompting MSF’s intervention.
The vessel was “practically in the eye” of a storm, facing waves of up to 4.5-5 metres and buffeted by winds of up to 40 knots, the Geo Barents’ rescue operations chief, Riccardo Gatti, said in an audio message distributed by MSF.
The migrants, including eight women and 30 children, spent four days at sea, the last two without food or water, after setting off from eastern Libya, near Benghazi, on April 1, MSF said.
One of them had fainted due to serious dehydration and was airlifted to Malta via helicopter, a charity spokeswoman said, adding that the group comprises nationals from Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Somalia and Sri Lanka.
MSF said it was told to take the migrants to the southeastern Italian port of Brindisi, except for a group of 100 who will be handed over to the Italian Coast Guard and brought ashore elsewhere.
The Geo Barents is expected to arrive in Brindisi on Friday, Gatti said.
Italy is facing a surge in sea migration from North Africa, with more than 28,000 arrivals in the year to date, compared to around 6,800 in the same period of 2022.
On Monday the Italian coast guard carried out another difficult rescue as it picked up 32 migrants stuck on a desert islet near Lampedusa island via helicopter.
Source – Reuters