At least 236 people saved from the Mediterranean Sea by a private rescue ship were taken to the Sicilian port of Augusta at the weekend. Another charity vessel which picked up more than 450 migrants is still waiting for an offer of safe harbor.
Italian authorities allowed the Ocean Viking vessel, run by the SOS Mediterranee charity and carrying 236 people, to dock in the Sicilian port of Augusta on Saturday, the organization said.
The migrants had been rescued from two rubber dinghies in distress in international waters in the Libyan Search and Rescue Region on Tuesday, April 27. More than half of the 236 survivors were children, including one who is less than five years old, according to SOS Mediterranee.
SOS Mediterranee said the rescued migrants were from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Togo.
The following day, Wednesday, April 28, the Ocean Viking had reportedly been preparing for the rescue of another rubber boat in distress when Libya's coast guard arrived on the scene and intercepted the boat. A second boat was also intercepted by the Libyan authorities on the same day.
454 migrants remain at sea
On Monday, 454 migrants onboard another rescue ship, Sea-Watch 4, were still floating in the Mediterranean waiting to be offered a safe harbor. The vessel, operated by a German volunteer group, says it conducted six rescues within 48 hours. The last group of 51 migrants was picked up on Saturday night as they were trying to cross the Mediterranean in a wooden boat.
Sea-Watch Head of Mission Hannah Wallace Bowman called for the rescued people urgently to be given a place of safety.
In a statement on Monday, Sea-Watch said that medical staff were caring for the rescued migrants. They include unaccompanied minors, pregnant women and children, many of whom are severely traumatized by their time in Libya, the organization said. Some of the passengers had already attempted the crossing several times, Sea-Watch added.
The first of the four rescues happened on Thursday (April 29) evening, when 44 people were picked up from a rubber boat in distress. The following day, more than 250 people were taken on board Sea-Watch 4 from three more boats. A further 148 people were rescued from two overcrowded wooden boats in two further rescue operations on Saturday, Sea-Watch said. One of the boats had been drifting at sea for three days. Although it was in the Maltese search and rescue zone and the coordinates were known to the authorities, no rescue operation was launched, Sea-Watch said. It added that neither Maltese nor Italian authorities has complied with its request for a port of safety.
At the weekend, one of the rescued migrants was medically evacuated by the Italian authorities leaving 454 people on board the Sea-Watch 4. The organization said a drastic deterioration in the weather has made the assignment of a port of safety more urgent than ever.
"A ship about 60 meters long is not a place where almost 500 people can stay for days on end. They have the right to go ashore as soon as possible," said Oliver Kulikowski, spokesperson on board the Sea-Watch 4.