Italian authorities asked the Geo Barents to assist an overcrowded vessel in distress of Sicily on May 27, 2023 | Photo: Twitter/@MSF_Sea
Italian authorities asked the Geo Barents to assist an overcrowded vessel in distress of Sicily on May 27, 2023 | Photo: Twitter/@MSF_Sea

The Geo Barents vessel, operated by the NGO Doctors without Borders (MSF), rescued some 600 migrants from an overcrowded boat in distress off the island of Sicily on Saturday. Meanwhile other humanitarian groups also rescued more than 150 people.

The group of 606 rescued migrants include 11 women and 151 minors, MSF said on Twitter. Among the minors, 20 children are under 13 years old, "including very young babies."

All were safely transfered on to the Geo Barents rescue ship in a three-hour long operation on Saturday (May 27) and cared for by the crew's medical team.

Before being rescued, "the survivors spent nearly five days at sea in very difficult conditions," the NGO tweeted. On the boat, which is thought to have left from eastern Libya, passengers were piled up on three levels.

MSF said the Geo Barents had been conducting training activities near Sicily when it was called in by the Italian MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) to undertake the rescue. Authorities in Rome asked the humanitarian ship to pick them up, under the supervision of the Italian coast guard.

The migrants will be disembarked in the southern port of Bari, as assigned by the Italian authorities, MSF said, adding it would take around 40 hours to reach the port.

More rescue operations

Meanwhile more rescue operations took place in the central Mediterranean between Friday morning and Sunday. 

According to the SOS Humanity charity, its crew rescued 88 migrants on Friday morning. On Monday morning it was heading for Livorno, Tuscany and is expected to arrive on Tuesday. According to the rescuees, another boat was in distress, but the Humanity 1 was not authorized to come to its aid.

Moreover on Saturday (May 27) the sailboat Nadir, alerted by the Pilotes Volontaires, which flies search and rescue missions looking for people in distress on the Mediterranean Sea with two reconnaissance aircraft, located a canoe "overcrowded with around 55 people in distress", according to the NGO ResQship which charters the boat. 

As the sailboat was not equipped to take the migrants on board, the crew provided them with life jackets and escorted them to the island of Lampedusa. However the migrants were eventually taken on board by the Italian authorities. "The engine kept failing and the fuel was leaking," says ResQship.

On Sunday (May 28) 17 people were picked up by the Sea-Eye 4, the ship run by the German NGO of the same name. The crew had also been alerted by Pilotes Voluntaires.

The Italian authorities have assigned the Sea-Eye 4 the port of Ortona, in southern Italy, as a port for disembarkation. "The survivors will have to spend four more days at sea after their ordeal," the NGO wrote on Twitter, calling the decision an "imposition".

New regulations for NGOs

A new law was introduced in January which requires humanitarian rescue ships to head to port immediately after the first rescue, foregoing additional rescues even if they are in the immediate vicinity of people in distress.

Charities, as well as international organizations, have criticized the new law, saying it often assigns ports too far away from the areas where NGO rescues take place, essentially limiting rescue capacities at sea, and making the Mediterranean route even more dangerous.

More than 47,000 migrant landings have been recorded in Italy so far this year, up from around 18,000 in the same period of 2022, interior ministry data show, reports Reuters.

975 migrants have died or gone missing in the Central Mediterranean so far this year, according to IOM's Missing Migrants Project, compared to 690 between January and May last year.


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