It was a busy weekend in the central Mediterranean. The Spanish rescue organization Open Arms said that it had picked up 146 migrants in two separate rescue operations. Meanwhile, the Tunisian navy said that it had picked up 25 from a shipwreck, with one person confirmed dead and about 22 missing.
On Friday evening (February 12) the Spanish rescue organziation Open Arms said its rescue ship picked up 40 migrants after "many hours of searching and encounters with a Libyan patrol boat."
Among those on board were a three-month-old baby, who Open Arms named as Moez, along with his parent Rafel.
Second rescue, 106 more come on board
The following evening (February 13), the Open Arms crew was alerted to another distress call and changed its route to come to the aid of another boat carrying 106 people.
The seas were already getting "choppy" said the Open Arms crew, but those on board were brought to safety, "including many women and children." This rescue, said the Open Arms crew, took place in the Maltese Search and Rescue zone, although Open Arms claimed that a Libyan patrol boat was present and kept a "watchful eye" on proceedings.
Soon after the 106 had been brought on board, the weather "deteriorated" and the boat the people had been on sank, said Open Arms. The waves, they said, built to "four-meters-high" and a storm blew up.
The humanitarian organization Mediterranea Saving Humans tweeted that the Mediterranean would be hit by storms this weekend and that the seas would present "dangerous conditions for navigation."
'A lot of life on board'
On Sunday, Open Arms posted a video showing "a lot of life on board" their ship, and said they were at their "limit" regarding the number of people they could safely accommodate.
Many of the migrants were pictured with masks on, huddling beneath blankets. One woman shook a makeshift rattle for a baby, sheltering from the wind between containers on the open sided deck. Rough seas could be seen in the background.
The pan-European broadcaster Euronews is aboard the Open Arms at the moment. They reported that the rescue of the 106 migrants had taken place "around 120 kilometers off the coast of Libya."
Euronews confirmed that Open Arms had told both the Maltese and the Libyan authorities about the boat in distress but after receiving "no response" had set about rescuing the group themselves before a storm arrived. The Italian newspaper, La Stampa said this second boat had also been spotted by a plane operated by the German humanitarian organization Sea-Watch. A petrol tanker, said La Stampa, kept an eye on the migrant boat from a distance until Open Arms arrived.
Euronews also said that the Libyan coastguard approached as the rescue mission was underway, claiming that Open Arms was in its search and rescue zone. The migrants told the Open Arms crew that they had gone to sea on February 12 from the Libyan port of Shuara.
Place of safety: Sicilian port assigned
On Sunday afternoon, according to La Stampa, the Italian authorities gave Open Arms permission to land in Sicily; they are expected to arrive in Porto Empedocle at some point on Monday, wrote the newspaper.
On Monday, February 15, the Marine Vessel Locator website showed the Open Arms ship sailing towards Sicily with its destination Syracuse. It was not too far outside Italian waters, sailing parallel with the Sicilian coast.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, 2,206 migrants have already arrived in Italy by sea between the beginning of 2021 and by February 9.
This year, the majority of those arrivals come originally from Eritrea, with Guineans making up the second largest nationality, people from Ivory Coast make up 9% of those who have arrived since the beginning of January and Tunisians 8%.
67% of migrants who have arrived in Italy in 2021 up until February 7 this year are men, with 9% women, 5% accompanied children and 19% unaccompanied minors.
Shipwreck confirmed by Tunisian navy
Meanwhile, the Tunisian navy reported on Saturday that it had rescued 25 migrants, from different African nations, including six women and taken them back to Tunisia. The navy confirmed that one person died in the shipwreck, as the boat capsized and all the passengers landed in the water. About 22 people are thought to be missing, reported the Italian newspaper La Sicilia.
That boat is thought to have set off from the Tunisian port of Sfax on Friday, February 12. On Saturday night, into Sunday, the Tunisian navy had to suspend their search for the missing 22 because of bad weather, reported the German news agency epd. The incident according to the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, took place south of Lampedusa.
The French newspaper Le Figaro in conjunction with reporting from the French news agency AFP added that the migrants on board told the Tunisian navy they had set off from Sidi Mansour, in the Sfax province and that originally 48 people were on board.
99 migrants arrive on Lampedusa
Two more boats arrived on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa without intervention or help, added epd. They reported a total of 99 migrants on board, including 20 women and eight minors. According to the Italian online agency Mediterraneo Cronaca, most on board these boats came from Syria, Tunisia and sub-Saharan African countries.
The online news portal News Sicilia also reported the arrival of the 99, saying both boats had set off from Tunisia and arrived in the night between Friday, February 12 and Saturday, February 13.
Last week, a recorded 1,500 migrants were taken back to Libya after they were intercepted by Libyan coast guards. According to La Stampa, "about 500 were rescued by humanitarian rescue organizations or arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa under their own steam."