Updated 5.30pm

An NGO that was in touch with a boat with 500 people fleeing from Libya that was taking in water in Malta’s search and rescue zone has lost contact with the boat, a spokesperson for the NGO said on Wednesday evening.

The spokesperson said that the last position his NGO, Alarm Phone, received was 35 miles within the Maltese SAR zone.

Alarm Phone answers calls from distressed people at sea.

It gave the news about the 500 people in distress on Tuesday night.

Then, it said water had entered the lower deck and those onboard had sought refuge on upper decks. 

The boat was located at a point between Greece and Malta. It ran into trouble when its engine stopped several days after leaving Libya, Alarm Phone said on Twitter.

On Wednesday morning, Alarm Phone said the people aboard had survived the night but were still adrift.

"They continue to urgently call for help. How long do they have to wait for rescue? We urge authorities to not further delay rescue efforts," Alarm Phone warned.

Times of Malta has contacted the Armed Forces of Malta and the Home Affairs Ministry.

Maltese authorities had been informed about the boat's plight, it said, and appealed for assistance for the vessel in distress. 

"Rescue efforts are needed urgently & without delay," the NGO said. 

In the past the NGO criticised Malta for failing to heed its calls. The Maltese authorities responded that they coordinated rescues when boats were in distress.

Last month some 60 migrants were rescued from two migrant boats by merchant vessels following orders from Malta. Earlier, however, Alarm Phone accused the Maltese authorities of refusing to order rescue operations for the two boats.

Five days previously an Italian minister expressed frustration at Malta's unwillingness to rescue migrants, saying the country is "pretending not to see" people at sea. 

"Malta's attitude is starting to grate," said Tommaso Foti, who heads the ruling right-wing Fratelli d'Italia grouping in Italy's parliament. "They consistently pretend not to see and never intervene. Our coastguard is under pressure," he said. 

At the time Malta had rescued just one migrant this year while the number rescued by Italy has tripled to over 30,000, data collected by the UNHCR indicated.

Foti's accusation that Malta was looking the other way reflected sentiment within several NGOs. 

"The last time I saw the AFM rescue someone was so long ago I can’t remember,” Tamino Bohm, tactical coordinator for search and rescue NGO Sea Watch, told Times of Malta.


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