The Italian coastguard is carrying out operations to rescue two boats carrying a total of 1,200 people, it said on Monday, after a surge in the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa over the weekend.
One of the boats, which is carrying 400 people and is in the Ionian Sea off the coast of Calabria, southern Italy, had previously been sighted in Maltese waters.
Earlier on Monday, German NGO Sea-Watch International, which had located the fishing boat with one of its planes, said one merchant ship in the area had supplied fuel and water to the boat in distress, but Maltese authorities had ordered it not to conduct a rescue.
A merchant vessel has supplied fuel & water to the boat with ⁓400 people on it but has not rescued it following orders from Malta.
Currently, the boat is struggling with 1.5m waves, a huge danger.
The EU must take its responsibility & rescue the people immediately! pic.twitter.com/toj7JfynNw
— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) April 10, 2023
Early on Sunday, support service Alarm Phone had said the vessel, which departed from Tobruk in Libya, was adrift and taking on water and was located in the Maltese Search and Rescue area.
The other rescue operation by the Italian coastguard on Monday was to help a fishing boat carrying 800 people that was located over 120 miles southeast of Siracusa, in Sicily.
It said in a statement this operation was complicated by the number of people on board.
A spokesperson for the coastguard said it would take hours to complete the two ongoing operations because of difficult conditions, including the long distance from the coast.
Before these two operations, the Italian coastguard had already rescued around 2,000 migrants since Friday, it said.
MALTA DENIES HELP
Sea-Watch International accused Malta of not wanting to rescue the people on board despite them being in serious danger and the vessel struggling with 1.5-meter waves.
“If the boat keeps moving, it might reach Italy and Malta does not have to accept the people,” it said on its Twitter account.
Maltese authorities did not respond to several requests for comment.
In a separate episode, at least 23 Africans were missing and four died on Saturday after their two boats sank off Tunisia as they tried to reach Italy.
Last week 440 migrants were rescued off Malta after a complex 11-hour operation in stormy seas by the Geo Barents vessel of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters