A commercial ship that picked up 30 migrants in distress at sea is “heading to Malta”, according to an NGO that tracks migrant crossings in the Mediterranean.

The migrants are believed to have departed Libya from Benghazi and run into trouble after about five days at sea, when their boat started taking in water.

Malta’s Armed Forces are aware of the situation but have so far failed to respond to pleas for help, said Alarm Phone, which first flagged concerns about the boat and the people aboard it.

Alarm Phone said that a surveillance plane had flown over the boat but that no other support was forthcoming until a private vessel, the Pan Unity, changed its course and came to the people’s rescue.

“People are asking, they can send a boat, why not a plane?” the NGO tweeted.

On Tuesday morning, Alarm Phone said the commercial vessel was "heading to Malta". 

It is not known whether the Pan Unity picked up the migrants in distress following a request to do so by Malta. An Armed Forces of Malta spokesperson said they had no information about the matter and directed any questions to the Home Affairs Ministry. 

A ministry spokesperson had not replied to questions at the time of writing.  

The Pan Unity last departed Malta on Boxing Day, according to ship-tracking websites, and was headed to the Egyptian port of Port Said.

Maritime crossings have spiked in recent days, with hundreds of migrants caught in winter waves and in need of assistance. The situation prompted archbishop Charles Scicluna to dedicate his Christmas message to the crisis, asking politicians “how can we tell them we are full up and have no place for them?”


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