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German NGO rescues 800 in six operations, heading to Italy

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MILAN (AP) — A rescue ship carrying nearly 400 migrants picked up another 400 people from a two-tier wooden boat that had started to sink overnight in the central Mediterranean Sea, a German charity that operates the ship said Thursday.

The nongovernmental organization Sea-Eye said a distress call from the crowded boat originated in Malta’s search and rescue area, and that Maltese authorities failed to respond. The island nation’s search and rescue area covers a broad swath of the central Mediterranean, including the waters surrounding Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa and part of the corridor between Libya and Sicily.

Seeing that “no other help was available to people in acute danger,’’ the rescue ship Sea-Eye 4 traveled for about six hours to reach the rickety boat, which had a leak and was taking on water, the Germany charity said. Another ship, Rise Up, also responded but did not take on any migrants.

“Several people were in the water without life jackets and had to be rescued directly from the sea,’’ said Sea-Eye, which operates the rescue ship along with the NGO German Doctors. It said one person had to be resuscitated while a lifeboat.

Sea-Eye 4 was en route Thursday to Lampedusa, the closest safe port, although the charity said it still had not received confirmation from Italy’s rescue coordination center in Rome that the vessel would be permitted to dock

“A state of emergency is now in effect on the Sea-Eye 4,’’ Sea-Eye Chairman Gorden Isler said. “Any delay by the authorities endangers the health and lives of the rescued people and our crew.’’

He accused Malta of shirking its duty and ignoring distress calls.

Separately, the Italian coast guard said it rescued nearly 200 migrants in two separate operations off Calabria, the southern “toe” of Italy’s mainland, on Wednesday night.

The coast guard said a sailboat with about 74 migrants, including 15 children, on board ran into difficulty in shallow water. Elsewhere, coast guard personnel rescued about 120 passengers from a fishing boat that was in distress at sea in bad conditions.

Dr. Christine Winkelmann, a German Doctors board member, said rescue crews operating in the dangerous central Mediterranean Sea migration route between North Africa and Southern Europe “are reaching the edge of their capacities.”

Migrant arrivals in Italy are up dramatically in 2021 compared to the previous two years but still far below the highs of 120,000-180,000 recorded during 2014-2017.

So far this year, nearly 54,000 migrants have arrived in Italy, up from more than 29,000 last year and under 10,000 in 2019, according to Interior Ministry officials. More than a quarter are from Tunisia, which has a pact to accept those sent back from Italy, while many more arrive from Libya.

While most migrants brought to Sicily or its tiny islands after rescue in the central Mediterranean started out on boats launched from northern Africa, sailboats and other vessels carrying migrants have made it to offshore the Italian mainland after sailing from Turkey.

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Frances D’Emilio contributed reporting from Rome.

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Follow AP’s migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

By COLLEEN BARRY
Associated Press

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