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MIGRANT CRISIS

Migrants rescued from grounded fishing boat off Sicily

Hundreds of migrants have been rescued from a fishing boat that ran aground, Italy's coast guard said on Wednesday, while 300 more on a humanitarian ship were allowed to disembark.

A young migrant hugs a doctor onboard the Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship off the coast of Sicily on September 01, 2020.
A young migrant hugs a doctor onboard the Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship off the coast of Sicily on September 01, 2020. THOMAS LOHNES / AFP

The coast guard said the overnight rescue of 396 migrants was complicated by “critical and worsening sea conditions and the shallow water” where the boat ran aground off the port of Pozzallo in southeastern Sicily.

Video images showed the grounded fishing boat pitched to one side amid high waves and the loading of migrants onto two port tugboats that helped in the operation.

Meanwhile, after more than a week at sea, 306 migrants on board the Ocean Viking humanitarian rescue boat operated by SOS Mediterranee were given a green light to disembark in Sicily.

Migrants warmed by emergency blankets arrive on a boat of the Italian Guardia Di Finanza law enforcement agency on May 17, 2021.

Migrants warmed by emergency blankets arrive on a boat of the Italian Guardia Di Finanza law enforcement agency on May 17, 2021. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

READ ALSO: German rescue boat heads for Italy carrying 800 migrants

“Indescribable relief on the Ocean Viking,” the association said on Twitter, after being told the ship could dock at the port of Augusta, on the island’s east coast.

The charity’s Claire Juchat had earlier appealed for help in a video message from on board.

“We’ve just gone through a storm with over-two metre waves, it’s raining, the bridge is wet, tonight the rescued have been soaked, frozen, we have to be disembarked as quickly as possible,” she said.

The boat rescued the migrants in four separate operations. It had been seeking a port to disembark the migrants since Sunday.

More than 57,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the beginning of the year, compared with about 30,000 in the same period last year, according to the interior ministry.

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MIGRANT CRISIS

German rescue boat heads for Italy carrying 800 migrants

A charity ship has rescued 800 migrants in the Mediterranean and is heading for the Italian port of Lampedusa, the German NGO Sea-Eye said on Thursday.

Crew members of civil sea rescue ship Sea-Watch 4 help migrants to board the rescue ship on August 29, 2020.
Crew members of civil sea rescue ship Sea-Watch 4 help migrants to board the rescue ship on August 29, 2020. Photo: Thomas Lohnes / AFP

The Sea-Eye 4 had already rescued 397 people in six operations by Wednesday, assisted by the Mission Lifeline ship Rise Above, Sea-Eye said in a statement.

The vessel then picked up a further 400 people from a heavily overcrowded wooden boat on Thursday morning, it said.

Maltese rescue services, though responsible for maritime emergencies in the area, “did not respond to any of the calls for assistance”, Sea-Eye said.

“There are now more than 800 people on the Sea-Eye 4, which has since set course for Lampedusa,” it said.

The migrants and 24 crew on board are facing an “unprecedented, highly stressful situation” and are “dependent on the rapid assignment of a port of safety”, it added.

READ ALSO: Italy failed to save over 200 drowning migrants, UN says

The NGO SOS-Mediterranee said its Ocean Viking ship was also in the area and had provided food supplies to the Sea-Eye 4.

“Any delay by the authorities endangers the health and lives of the rescued people and our crew,” Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler was quoted as saying.

“It is shameful how Malta repeatedly shirks its responsibility and ignores distress calls.”

Italy is one of the main points of entry into Europe for migrants from North Africa, mainly from Libya and Tunisia, with tens of thousands of people seeking to cross the central Mediterranean each year.

The port of Lampedusa became a flashpoint for migration disputes under hardline former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini.

Salvini went on trial last month for allegedly illegally blocking 147 rescued migrants from disembarking from a rescue ship and holding them in dire conditions.

READ ALSO: Italy’s former interior minister Salvini stands trial for migrant kidnapping

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