Migrants safe following overnight rescue

One person died before rescuers reached the boat

File photo

File photo

A group of almost 1,000 migrants who were in distress yesterday off the coast of Libya were rescued and taken to Lampedusa following a series of overnight rescue operations.

Italian search and rescue command in Rome told Times of Malta the migrants were picked up by three merchant vessels and an Italian navy ship. In all 978 people were rescued, one person had died before help arrived.

A group of 235 migrants were rescued in the afternoon by a merchant vessel that was directed to the asylum seekers vessel by the Rome rescue centre.

An Italian navy vessel, the Orione, rescued another group of 221 while two merchant ships, the City of Hamburg and the Maersk Regensburg, overnight picked up a group of some 522 migrants from Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Times of Malta yesterday managed to make contact with this group on a satellite phone number supplied by a source. An Eritrean man on the other end of the line said there were some 620 people on board.

“Many people are vomiting, we have no water, we have no food… and the engine, sometimes it is stopping,” the migrant said. (Listen to the conversation here.)

In fact, there were about 100 less but, rescuers said it is normal for the people on board not to be able to provide accurate figures for the number of people on board.

“They would be crammed on a boat, often unable to move, it’s very hard to have a head count and very often smugglers would tell them that a certain number of people will board the vessel and then they end up cramming much more so the numbers are almost always an approximation,” an experienced Italian rescuer told Times of Malta.

At first, Italian authorities thought they were dealing with as many as 1,500 migrants. However, it seems more vessels have left Libya this morning and rescuers are bracing themselves for more SOS calls today.

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