More than 800 migrants rescued in Mediterranean head to Italy

A charity ship has sailed towards Italy’s Sicilian port with 236 people rescued in the Mediterranean from traffickers boats, while Italian coast guard and border police added 532 others to a tiny island. 

The maritime rescue group SOS Mediterranee stated on Saturday a ship it operates, Ocean Viking, pulled the migrants to safety four days ago from rubber dinghies. 

Upon instructions from Italian authorities, the Ocean Viking was sailing to Augusta, Sicily, with its passengers, who it said included 119 unaccompanied minors.

SOS Mediterranee said that some passengers told rescuers that they were beaten by smugglers based in Libya and that despite the rough seas, they were forced to board unsafe ships.

On Italy’s southern island of Lampedusa, that is toward North Africa than to the Italian mainland, Mayor Salvatore Martello said migrants from 4 boats that needed rescue stepped ashore overnight. They were brought to protection through the Italian coastguard and customs police boats.

Separately, an Italian navy vessel rescued 49 migrants, Italian kingdom TV reported.

Still in the central Mediterranean Sea on Saturday was another charity boat, Sea-Watch 4, which with 308 people on board who had been rescued in 4 separate operations from trafficker-launched vessels, Sea-Watch said in a statement.

The first rescue, of 44 people, took place on Thursday, it said.

Sea-Watch four has asked a port to disembark the migrants from both Italy and Malta.

“The reality that we, as a civil rescue ship, saved so many people from misery at sea in such a short time again demonstrates the essential rescue gap European states have created at the world’s most risky maritime border,” stated Hannah Wallace Bowman, the head of mission for Sea-Watch four.

Warmer climate in the spring often increases the number of vessels launched towards Europe by Libya-based migrant traffickers.

Last month, SOS Mediterranee staff and a merchant ship saw the body of a crashed ship, which is believed to be carrying 130 migrants. 

The people on the ship asked for help in the waters off Libya, but no coastguard vessel from Libya, Italy or Malta came to their aid, the group said. No survivors were found.

Humanitarian agencies were urging European Union nations to resume the deployment of navy vessels on rescue patrols in the Mediterranean.

After hundreds of thousands of rescued migrants, many of them ineligible for asylum, were taken to Italy by ships from coastguard, navy, border police and other countries, large-scale rescue operations in the sea north of Libya were ended.

Italy has been equipping and training the Libyan coastguard to rescue migrants in their search-and-rescue area and to deter traffickers.

Human rights groups and UN agencies have denounced inhumane treatment at Libyan detention centres, where migrants rescued or intercepted by the Libyan coastguard are taken.

They say migrants endure beatings, rapes and inadequate rations.