Voyage of 138 men and 20 women ended in tragedy as death toll went up to six after two were lost overboard, two died in a dinghy and two perished after rescue

The death toll of migrants went up to six yesterday after 158 exhausted and dehydrated men and women were brought to Malta in the early hours of the morning after being taken off two dinghies.

A group of 90 were rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta on Wednesday night while the other 68, who were reported to be in very poor health, had been taken aboard a merchant vessel on Tuesday before being transferred to another AFM patrol boat a few miles off shore.

The deaths were all from the dinghy aided by the merchant ship, the Victoria 6.

Two men were already dead when the dinghy approached the ship for help, with its occupants in dire need of medical attention.

Another two fell into the sea during the hazardous manoeuvre to transfer them to the ship. They have not been traced, despite searches carried out by an AFM plane.

Two more migrants were reported to have died on board the Victoria 6 after the rescue operation was carried out.

The Victoria 6 took the dinghy, with two bodies on board, in tow but it broke loose on its way to Malta. The boat was recovered and brought to shore by the armed forces at about 1.30 a.m. yesterday.

The 68 migrants, of which nine are women, were brought into Haywharf in two batches, at 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., after they were transferred to an army patrol boat.

A spokesman explained the operation took so long as the people were exhausted.

Meanwhile, 90 migrants – 79 men and 11 women – were rescued about 70 nautical miles south of Delimara.

The armed forces were alerted by the police who had received a tip-off, army sources said. A patrol boat went out to meet them and arrived at Haywharf at about 2 a.m.

The arrival of new migrants was cause for concern for Labour home affairs spokes­man Michael Falzon, who said that while Malta had to observe its international obligations, illegal immigration was a challenge and a burden.

Dr Falzon said the government should be prepared to tackle this issue and needed to be more active in European and inter­national fora.

For several months, Malta was without a minister responsible for illegal immigration – a situation that reflected the poor state of the government, he said.

Exhausted and tearful, the migrants arrived in Malta wondering what life holds in store for them. Photos: Darrin Zammit Lupi

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