Rescue ship cleared to dock in Sicily with 373 migrants on board

AFP/The Local
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Rescue ship cleared to dock in Sicily with 373 migrants on board
The Ocean Viking ship seen from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sicily. Photo: AFP

Over 370 migrants will be allowed to disembark on the Italian island of Sicily on Monday after being rescued amid storms in the Mediterranean by the Ocean Viking humanitarian vesse.


"Big relief on board tonight as the #OceanViking was assigned a Place of Safety in Augusta, Sicily," the SOS Mediterranee group tweeted.

"We are humbled by the resilience of the people we rescued this week, and deeply touched by the stories they shared with us,"

The humanitarian group said in a press release that the rescue ship was about to arrive in Sicily on Monday morning.

“After weeks of bad weather, conditions off the Libyan coast improved earlier this week, which led to numerous departures of people trying to flee across the central Mediterranean on unseaworthy, overcrowded boats," stated  Luisa Albera, Search and Rescue coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking.

"Reports of shipwrecks and interceptions by the Libyan Coast Guard came in as the team on the Ocean Viking, the only civil rescue ship at sea this week, was engaged in intense search and rescue operations."


SOS Mediterranee said earlier that the Ocean Viking had picked up 374 people, most from sub-Saharan Africa.

The Ocean Viking had picked up the migrants from four overcrowded dinghies in the Mediterranean, where stormy conditions returned over the weekend.

The group includes 165 children, most of them unaccompanied and  21 aged four or younger.

The Italian coastguard on Saturday evacuated one heavily pregnant woman from the Ocean Viking.

“From the survivors on board we heard horrifying accounts of the inhumane treatment they endured in Libya. The past two days were extremely hard for the 373 survivors on board, as weather conditions deteriorated rapidly," Albera said.

"Knowing we have numerous babies and small children onboard, who were especially struggling with seasickness, we feared another lengthy standoff with no solution in sight, as we experienced in the past," she said, referring to the regular blocking of ports by the previous Italian goverment, a policy which left migrant rescue ships stranded at sea for days or weeks at a time.

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Former interior minister Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing populist League party, is currently facing trial on charges of sequestration and abuse of power over the port closures.

The humanitarian group called for "a return to an effective coordination of State-led search and rescue in the central Mediterranean" from Italy and the EU.

Most of those trying to make the perilous crossing leave from Libya and Tunisia, attempting to enter Europe through Italy.

More than 1,200 people died last year while trying to make the journey.


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