Around 400 people reported to have been on a sinking boat off Malta on Wednesday have been saved by private rescue boats.

The Sea-Eye and Mission Lifeline aid organisations rescued the migrants on their vessels Sea-Eye 4 and Rise Above and are now looking for a safe port.

Emergency hotline AlarmPhone first raised the alarm and said the authorities in Malta had failed to respnd to any of their calls for assistance.

The ships Sea-Eye 4 and the Rise Above were about six hours away from the scene but decided to head to the site because no other help was expected.

Rise Above reached the two-level leaking wooden boat on Wednesday evening.

It said several people were in the water without life jackets and had to be rescued directly from the sea.

The Sea-Eye 4 arrived shortly afterwards.

Crews of the rescue boats provided the distressed people with life jackets, calmed them down and stabilised the situation.

This, they said, was crucial because such a large wooden boat can easily capsize if unrest or panic arises.

800 on board

Urgent medical emergencies were first evacuated to the Sea-Eye 4 with one person being successfully resuscitated while still on the lifeboat on the way to the Sea-Eye. The full evacuation of the wooden boat could not be completed until midnight.

There are now more than 800 people on the Sea-Eye 4, since there were also migrants saved in earlier operations, a spokesperson said. The ship has since set course for Lampedusa, which is just a few hours away from the scene of the accident.

It described this as “an unprecedented, highly stressful situation”  with the rescue ship dependent on the rapid assignment of a port of safety. It said it has already asked the rescue coordination centre in Rome for the assignment of a safe port and the German Foreign Office for urgent assistance, as Malta still refused communication.

“A state of emergency is now in effect on the Sea-Eye 4. Any delay by the authorities endangers the health and lives of the rescued people and our crew. It is shameful how Malta repeatedly shirks its responsibility and ignores distress calls,” Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler said.

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