A Tunisian fisherman in need of medical treatment was flown to hospital yesterday morning after several unsuccessful attempts to winch him onto a helicopter over the weekend.

Krife Mohammed, 35, bled from the mouth and lapsed into unconsciousness for a while after suffering a fall on board the Oceania, an Italian-registered fishing vessel that was about 95 nautical miles southwest of Malta.

The army was informed of the accident on Saturday afternoon by their Italian counterparts and asked the trawler to sail towards the island. A helicopter was flown out to collect the casualty.

The two met about 78 nautical miles off the coast but rough seas and bad visibility made it impossible for the helicopter to lower a rescuer onto the boat.

The rescue had to be called off after three attempts and the fishing boat was asked to make for Lampedusa, from where an Italian patrol boat carrying a doctor was sent out to meet it.

The Italian vessel reached the fishing boat at about 1 a.m. but the bad weather again made it impossible for the doctor to board.

By then, Mr Mohammed's condition had deteriorated and the Oceania was asked to head back to Malta at about 2 a.m.

At about 6.30 a.m., when the fishing boat was some six nautical miles off Mellieħa, the casualty was finally winched aboard a helicopter from the Italian Military Mission carrying an Italian/Maltese crew.

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