From file: Italian merchant ship "Asso Trenta" lands in Pozzallo, Italy, after rescuing about 200 migrants in the waters off Libya in November 2019 | Photo: ANSA/Francesco Ruta
From file: Italian merchant ship "Asso Trenta" lands in Pozzallo, Italy, after rescuing about 200 migrants in the waters off Libya in November 2019 | Photo: ANSA/Francesco Ruta

Two commercial vessels and a Spanish rescue ship have brought more than 400 migrants to Sicily over the past three days. One of the ships, the Vos Triton, only drove the survivors to Italy after they protested against being returned to Libya.

The Italian offshore supply vessel Asso Trenta brought 232 boat migrants to the port town of Porto Empedocle on the Italian island of Sicily on Monday (February 22).

Italian public radio reported on Monday that during the migrants' rescue on Saturday in the Mediterranean Sea, a body had also been found.

After being tested for COVID-19, the migrants were to be brought to the quarantine ship GNV Allegra, moored in Porto Empedocle. The cruise ferry is one of several vessels the state of Italy is using to house or quarantine migrants.

It is not the first time the Asso Trenta has rescued migrants in the Mediterranean: In November 2019, the vessel brought to Sicily 151 migrants it had rescued in waters off Libya a day earlier.

Separately, the Spanish rescue ship Aita Mari on Monday disembarked 102 migrants at the Sicilian port of Augusta following their rescue on Friday. The group included two pregnant women and a seven-month-old baby.

Protest on the Vos Triton

The supply vessel Vos Triton, meanwhile, also brought the 77 migrants it had rescued on Saturday (February 20) to Porto Empedocle.

InfoMigrants French reported on Tuesday that the crew of the merchant vessel "wanted to bring the exiles back to Libya but a major protest on board convinced the captain to head for Lampedusa" instead.

Although the vessel arrived on Sunday on Lampedusa, the survivors were not allowed to disembark. After remaining stationed off the island, it went to Porto Empedocle on Sicily on Monday.

According to InfoMigrants French, the Vos Triton, "which flies the Gibraltar flag and is owned by a Dutch company, had already rescued migrants at sea in March 2019 and brought them back to Tripoli."

International law mandates that survivors are taken to a safe port. However, many NGOs do not consider Libya a safe country.

Vigil on the high seas

German NGO Sea-Watch first mentioned the Vos Triton on Twitter on Sunday, saying that its surveillance plane Moonbird had "sighted a boat" with migrants on board near the Vos Triton. "The merchant vessel assured us it would go to the distress case, but then did not," according to Sea-Watch.

On Monday, Sea-Watch published an aerial shot of the Vos Triton taken from the Moonbird that allegedly showed the survivors trying "to give the deceased person a dignified ceremony on board."

More migrant arrivals to Sicily

Meanwhile, several migrant boats reached Sicily over the weekend. According to Italian public radio, 120 migrants landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa on Saturday and Sunday, among them some 30 women and children. A child had been born aboard one of the vessels during the crossing.

On Saturday, nearly 500 migrants were also intercepted at sea by Libya's coastguard. They were all sent back to the wartorn country, according to reports on Twitter by Safa Msehli, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In addition, a migrant boat capsized off the coast of Lampedusa as it was intercepted by the Italian coastguard, which saved around 45 people. According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, seven people are missing.

with epd


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