About 265 migrants, including six babies and a woman nine months pregnant rescued on Saturday (Jan. 02) is on aboard a Spanish-flagged humanitarian ship currently seeking a port of safety.
The Open Arms charity said that its vessel had safely brought aboard 96 migrants who had been adrift in a wooden boat with without life vests in international waters. The NGO said the passengers, most of them from Eritrea, were suffering from hypothermia.
Open Arms is currently the only NGO rescue boat operating in the central Mediterranean.
In a separate operation two days before that rescue, Open Arms took aboard 169 migrants, who had departed Libyan shores, where many human traffickers are based.
The welfare of the babies aboard, the youngest of was a 10-month-old boy, is of particular concern amid poor conditions.
“This is not a place for babies, this is a rescue ship, it’s supposed to rescue people and go to a port of safety as soon as possible,” Esther Camps, an Open Arms rescue coordinator, told The Independent.
“They have to sleep in the open air, it’s really cold. It’s not a good place for adults and it is even worse for babies.”
Most of the people rescued had fled Eritrea, Ms. Camps said from the vessel, which was 20 miles off Sicily.
Open Arms requested permission to dock in Malta, but was refused. The charity is now in talks with the Italian coastguard and awaiting a decision.
“Normally we have to wait between seven and 10 days [for a response], but we are pushing the authorities to go a bit faster,” Ms. Camps said.
Rescuers working on the boat are operating in hazmat suits and everyone on board must wear a mask at all times, even in the open air because of the risk of infection with coronavirus.
“Covid makes it really difficult, but not impossible,” Ms. Camps said.
The Independent has approached the Italian and Maltese authorities for comment. (Source: The Independent UK)