More than 200 migrants, including children traveling alone, were brought ashore at an Italian port on Saturday, after being rescued in international waters off the coast of western Libya.
The Ocean Viking humanitarian ship, operated by SOS Mediterranee, arrived at the Sicilian port of Augusta, as the charity group also issued a desperate plea for Europe to intervene to save those trying to reach the continent by sea.
The Ocean Viking was too late to save 130 migrants from a capsizing rubber boat off Libya on Apr 22, but on Tuesday the ship did rescue 236 people, with 15 different nationalities among them, stranded on two overloaded dinghies in the Mediterranean Sea.
Pictures taken at the scene showed the 236 migrants were given identity checks and COVID-19 tests as they disembarked while the unaccompanied minors were taken to a special reception facility.
Many of the migrants were beaten by smugglers and forced to embark, including “some of the 119 unaccompanied minors currently on board Ocean Viking”, SOS Mediterranee said in a statement.
The Marseille-based charity also called for “an efficient, lawful and humane European search and rescue programme to be urgently re-established, seven years after the end of operation Mare Nostrum”.
“A return to a European search and rescue fleet is the only option. Europe can no longer remain passive in the face of recurring shipwrecks,” it said.
It added that the Ocean Viking and three merchant vessels were the only ships trying to save people from the Apr 22 shipwreck, when “our calls for support and coordination once again went unanswered”.
But Frederic Penard, SOS Mediterranee director of operations, did welcome that on Friday, “for the first time in months, a European navy ship, from the Italian Navy, conducted a rescue in international waters off Libya”.
“We hope that this rescue heralds growing awareness on the part of European governments,” he added.
So far this year at least 453 migrants have died trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration.
SOS Mediterranee said it has rescued nearly 33,000 people since February 2016. (Source: CNA)