Three private migrant rescue ships carrying more than 500 people are waiting for a safe port in the Central Mediterranean. A fourth humanitarian vessel, the Nadir, has disembarked 19 migrants in Italy.
519 migrants are currently waiting on board the Ocean Viking, the Sea-Watch 4 and the Louise Michel to be given the green lights for disembarkation in Italy.
The latest rescue took place Monday morning (June 27) when the crew of the Ocean Viking "rescued 66 people from a rubber boat in distress" in Maltese waters "after a long search". According to SOS Mediterranee, which operates the Ocean Viking, the survivors spent two full days at sea and showed "signs of exhaustion".
Monday's rescue was the third rescue in four days by the Ocean Viking. On Sunday, its crew rescued 75 people from an "overcrowded rubber boat" in the Libyan search and rescue (SAR) zone. The first rescues took place on Friday (June 24), when 15 people were saved off Libya. The vessel currently carries 156 migrants, including 45 women, 68 unaccompanied minors, six children and a nine-month-old baby.
Sea-Watch 4, Louise Michel and Nadir
With 304 rescued migrants, fellow NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 4 currently has by far the most people on board. Since the first rescue, which took place on June 19, nine people had to be evacuated for medical reasons.
"Among these 304 people, we have a baby less than a year old. Everyone is waiting for a safe port," Spanish news agency EFE reported, citing German NGO Sea-Watch, which operates the vessel.
Another 59 rescued migrants are waiting on board the Louise Michel, whose crew picked them up from an "overcrowded rubber boat" on Friday (June 25). The vessel, which is supported by artist Banksy, was on "standby ready to assist" the Ocean Viking during Monday's rescue.
The small sailing yacht Nadir, meanwhile, was allowed to dock in the Italian island of Lampedusa over the weekend. Private rescue organization RESQSHIP, which operates the Nadir, tweeted Sunday evening that all 19 migrants the crew had rescued 90 hours earlier had gone ashore.
On Sunday, distress hotline Alarm Phone, which collects calls for help from migrants in distress at sea, tweeted about two boats adrift off Libya with about a hundred people and one dead body on board. Later on, Alarm Phone said, also on Twitter, that all passengers were brought back to Libya by Libya's coast guard.
Libya's coast guard has reportedly intercepted and returned close to 9,000 migrants to the war-torn northern African country so far this year. Sea rescue NGOs like Sea-Watch and SOS Mediterranee refuse to return shipwrecked migrants to Libya as they face torture, extortion and other human rights violations there.
Deadly migration route
The central Mediterranean route from northern Africa to Europe is among the deadliest escape routes in the world. In early April, some 90 people presumably died in the Mediterranean in one of the worst shipwrecks involving migrants in recent years.
The estimated death toll in the Central Mediterranean Sea currently stands at 721 for the year. Last year, more than 1,500 people drowned there while trying to reach European shores. The real numbers are likely a lot higher.
A state-run sea rescue mission doesn't exist in the Mediterranean. Instead, it's the aforementioned NGO vessels that conduct search-and-rescue (SAR) missions to save migrants in distress. It often takes several days or longer until Italian authorities assign the vessel a port. Fellow EU member state Malta hasn't given permission to disembark rescued migrants for a long time.
These months, Italy is experiencing an increase in migrant arrivals. According to news agency EFE, almost 26,000 people have landed on Italian shores so far this year (as of June 24), compared to 16,000 in the same period last year.
With epd, EFE