More than 800 migrants rescued in Mediterranean head to Italy

a large ship in a body of water: Ocean Viking pulled the migrants to safety four days ago from two rubber dinghies [File: Nicolas Tucat/AFP] © Ocean Viking pulled the migrants to safety four days ago from two rubber dinghies [File: Nicolas Tuc... Ocean Viking pulled the migrants to safety four days ago from two rubber dinghies [File: Nicolas Tucat/AFP]

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

The maritime rescue group SOS Mediterranee said on Saturday a ship it operates, Ocean Viking, pulled the migrants to safety four days ago from two 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 some passengers told rescuers they were beaten by smugglers based in Libya and forced to embark on the unseaworthy dinghies despite high waves.

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

Separately, an Italian navy vessel rescued 49 migrants, Italian state 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 four separate operations from trafficker-launched vessels, Sea-Watch said in a statement.

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

‘Rescue gap’

Sea-Watch 4 has requested a port to disembark the migrants from both Italy and Malta.

“The fact that we, as a civil rescue ship, saved so many people from distress at sea in such a short time again demonstrates the fundamental rescue gap European states have created at the world’s most dangerous maritime border,” said Hannah Wallace Bowman, the head of mission for Sea-Watch 4.

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

Last month, SOS Mediterranee personnel and a merchant ship spotted several bodies from a shipwrecked dinghy, believed to have been carrying 130 migrants.

People on the boat had appealed for help in the waters off Libya, but no coastguard vessels from Libya, Italy or Malta came to their aid, the group said. No survivors were found.

Humanitarian groups have been urging European Union nations to resume the deployment of military vessels on rescue patrols in the Mediterranean.

After hundreds of thousands of rescued migrants, many of them ineligible for asylum, were brought to Italy by ships from the coastguard, navy, border police and other nations, 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 discourage 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 insufficient rations.

More than 800 migrants rescued in Mediterranean head to Italy