European charity ship rescues 135 migrants, including eight children, off Malta

The crew of the European charity ship Ocean Viking said on Friday they had rescued another 135 migrants, including a pregnant woman and eight children, from a double-decker boat in Maltese search-and-rescue waters.

In total, the vessel operated by the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee was carrying 359 shipwreck survivors, it said, adding the ship had been assigned to the distant port at Ancona, in Italy’s central Marche region.

“Such a long navigation should never be imposed on persons rescued at sea,” the rescue organisation wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Non-governmental organisations operating in the central Mediterranean Sea have repeatedly warned that the far-right-led Italian government’s policy of assigning ports farther north keeps their rescue ships out of waters where they can be saving lives.

Migrants Europe
A migrant is helped to evacuate a partially deflated rubber dinghy by the rescue personnel of the SOS Mediterranee humanitarian ship Ocean Viking in the Mediterranean on Wednesday (Johanna de Tessieres/SOS Mediterranee via AP)

The Ocean Viking has been subject to three such blocks over three months, the most recently from February 8 until a judge lifted the block 10 days later.

Friday’s rescue came a day after survivors saved from a deflating rubber dinghy in the central Mediterranean on Thursday reported that some 60 people who departed from Libya with them more than a week ago had perished during the journey.

The Ocean Viking spotted the dinghy with 25 people on board on Wednesday. Two were unconscious and were evacuated to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, some 60 miles (97km) to the north. The other 23 were in serious condition, exhausted, dehydrated and with burns from fuel on board the boat.

An SOS Mediterranee spokesman said the survivors were traumatised and unable to give full accounts of what had transpired during the voyage, adding that the number of missing and presumed dead was unlikely to ever be verified.

Humanitarian groups often rely on accounts of survivors when pulling together the numbers of dead and missing at sea, presumed to have died.

The UN International Organisation for Migration says 227 people have died along the perilous central Mediterranean route this year through March 11, not counting the new reported missing and presumed dead. That is out of a total 279 deaths in the Mediterranean since January 1.

A total of 19,562 people arrived in Italy using that route in the period.

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