Rescue comes day after Malta failed to respond to three boats in distress
OVER 50 refugees were rescued from a wooden boat in waters near Malta and Italy today by the crew of an NGO ship.
The Ocean Viking, a refugee rescue ship operated by European charity SOS Mediterranee, found the boat with 51 refugees on board this afternoon.
The charity said in a tweet that the rescue took place in international waters that both Italy and Malta have overlapping responsibly for.
Germany charity Sea Watch (which rescued 211 people with its ship Sea Watch 3 last week) warned yesterday that its monitoring plane, Moonbird, had spotted three boats in Maltese waters.
“All authorities have been informed,” the charity tweeted yesterday evening. “[They] have to initiate a rescue immediately instead of having the people pulled back to Libya as happened in the last days.”
This afternoon Sea Watch said: “Luckily, one of the boats discovered by #Moonbird yesterday was rescued by the Italian Coastguard.
“The other cases could unfortunately not be re-spotted by our crew.”
It is unclear as yet whether the boat the Ocean Viking found today was one of the vessels spotted by Moonbird on Wednesday.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported this morning that 71 migrants were picked up by the EU-supported Libyan coastguard and returned to the nation’s capitol Tripoli last night.
IOM spokeswoman Safa Msehli warned on Twitter that “so far this year, nearly 5,000 migrants who attempted to flee Libya were returned and arbitrarily detained.”
Many of those, she added, remain unaccounted for.
Human rights organisations and NGO refugee rescuers have condemned Malta recently for the way it treats refugees and for allowing the Libyan Coastguard to intercept refugees in its waters and return them to the war-torn country from which they escaped.
The Ocean Viking rescued a further 67 people in a second operation that day, bringing the total number of people on board the ship to 118.
The boat the Ocean Viking found was in international waters in the overlapping Italian and Maltese search and rescue regions, not in Malta’s territorial waters as originally stated.