Saturday, April 11, 2015, 12:49 by Mark Micallef
Migrants safe following overnight rescue
One person died before rescuers reached the boat
A group of almost 1,000 migrants who were in distress yesterday off the coast of Libya were rescued and taken to Lampedusa following a series of overnight rescue operations.
Italian search and rescue command in Rome told Times of Malta the migrants were picked up by three merchant vessels and an Italian navy ship. In all 978 people were rescued, one person had died before help arrived.
A group of 235 migrants were rescued in the afternoon by a merchant vessel that was directed to the asylum seekers vessel by the Rome rescue centre.
An Italian navy vessel, the Orione, rescued another group of 221 while two merchant ships, the City of Hamburg and the Maersk Regensburg, overnight picked up a group of some 522 migrants from Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia.
Times of Malta yesterday managed to make contact with this group on a satellite phone number supplied by a source. An Eritrean man on the other end of the line said there were some 620 people on board.
“Many people are vomiting, we have no water, we have no food… and the engine, sometimes it is stopping,” the migrant said. (Listen to the conversation here.)
In fact, there were about 100 less but, rescuers said it is normal for the people on board not to be able to provide accurate figures for the number of people on board.
“They would be crammed on a boat, often unable to move, it’s very hard to have a head count and very often smugglers would tell them that a certain number of people will board the vessel and then they end up cramming much more so the numbers are almost always an approximation,” an experienced Italian rescuer told Times of Malta.
At first, Italian authorities thought they were dealing with as many as 1,500 migrants. However, it seems more vessels have left Libya this morning and rescuers are bracing themselves for more SOS calls today.
LISTEN: Phone call with migrants in trouble south of Malta as 1,500 head north
(Adds Ansa report that 350 migrants have been saved - others still out at sea)
A group of some 620 migrants who left from Libya early in the morning issued an SOS after the engine on their vessel started misfiring.
The group is just one of a number detected south of Malta. The AFM estimated that some 1,500 migrants could be at sea heading North.
Ansa last night reported that 350 migrants were rescued about 30 miles from the Libyan coast. They were taken on board a merchant vessel.
Times of Malta managed to contact the migrants on a satellite phone number provided by a source. An Eritrean migrant on the other end of the line said there were many women, two children and at least one pregnant woman on board.
“Many people are vomiting, we have no water, we have no food… and the engine, sometimes it is stopping,” the migrant said.
He said the boat was carrying mainly Eritreans and Somalis. They are believed to have left from Sabratha, 66 kilometres west of the capital Tripoli, earlier this morning.
Italian rescue authorities picked up the SOS call from the boat and are coordinating the rescue.
The Armed Forces of Malta meanwhile said it is assisting the operations with an offshore patrol vessel which is on Frontex patrol.
The vessel is currently proceeding towards the rescue area.
The AFM said it is estimated that around 1,500 migrants departed on "several" boats from Libya.
Individual 1: Hello...
TOM: Hello... is there someone who speaks English?
Individual 1: Hello, hello... OK, OK
Individual 2: Hello
TOM: Hello, hi, do you speak English?
Individual 2: Ya... I speak English ya.
TOM: I am told that you are on a boat right now and you are trying to reach Europe.
Individual 2: Aah, but I don’t know ... [inaudible]
TOM: How many people are on board?
Individual 2: We are 620 people...
TOM: What nationalities are you?
Individual 2: We are from Eritrea. Most of us are Eritreans, some of them are Somalis and very few are Ethiopian...
TOM: Is the boat working or are you in trouble?
Individual 2: Yes we are travelling.
TOM: You are travelling...
Individual 2: Ya, but... [inaudible] ...was mixing oil with water, is travelling... slowly and suddenly the engine stopped, completely stopped.
TOM: So your engine isn’t working.
Individual 2: It is working but almost... [inaudible]...
TOM: You’re taking in water... right now.
Individual 2: Yes.
Received on Sat Apr 11 2015 - 11:46:52 EDT