Two groups of migrants were rescued from the Central Mediterranean Sea by the Ocean Viking ship on Thursday. Hundreds of others due to disembark from the Geo Barents in Sicily were forced to remain on board without explanation.
Almost 160 people were rescued by a private rescue ship in the Mediterranean on Thursday as they tried to reach Italy in unseaworthy boats. The Ocean Viking ship picked up the migrants from two overcrowded rubber dinghies in the Libyan search and rescue area, the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee said.
Six pregnant women and a three-month-old baby were among the 158 people rescued. Eyewitnesses said the migrants had spent up to nine hours at sea, and many were suffering from heat exhaustion and emotional distress.
The Ocean Viking is operated by the French NGO SOS Mediterranee and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Disembarkation from Geo Barents halted
Meanwhile, another humanitarian ship in the Central Mediterranean, the Geo Barents, which was granted permission to dock in Sicily after waiting at sea for a week with around 470 rescued migrants on board, said Thursday that the Italian authorities had interrupted the disembarkation without explanation, leaving 238 migrants still on the ship.
On Friday morning six people jumped overboard "out of desperation after 11 days of unjustified waiting," the ship's operator Doctors Without Borders (MSF) tweeted.
Some of those who remain on board have broken limbs, and one person is reportedly diabetic, MSF said. Earlier this week the group said most of the survivors had suffered abuse in Libya.
The Geo Barents communications officer Anna Pantelia told InfoMigrants (French) that they did not know why the disembarkation had been stopped.
"We had disembarked about half of the people when, yesterday afternoon, we were asked to leave the wharf. We were not given any information. We were not told why we were asked that."
She said there is enough food and water on board to last until tomorrow morning (Saturday) when the disembarkation is expected to resume.
Another boat sinks off Tunisia coast
The Central Mediterranean is the world’s most dangerous route for migrants. Last year at least 1,553 people were registered as missing or deceased on the route. The actual number is believed to be much higher, as many departures from Libyan and Tunisian shores go unreported.
On Friday, another boat carrying more than 50 people was reported to have sunk off the coast of Sfax in Tunisia. Three people were confirmed dead and ten others were missing, Tunisian authorities said. 44 others are said to have survived.
Sfax is one of the main departure points for Tunisian and other African migrants hoping to reach Europe. During the warmer months of the year, the number of people attempting the dangerous crossing generally increases, and so does the number of fatalities.
In early May, Tunisian authorities found the bodies of 24 people who had set out some time between April 22 and April 30. Their boats also capsized off Sfax. The bodies of the victims were taken to the city's morgue - which already was full of bodies.
with AFP, DPA