Around 450 people who were stranded at sea were brought to shore in Sicily on Tuesday morning, hours after they had strayed into Malta's search and rescue zone.
The 450 people entered the port of Pozzallo at 7am, accompanied by Italian law enforcement and port authorities. They had departed Libya some days ago aboard a 25-metre boat but reported engine problems on Monday.
Some of the people aboard were also sick, NGO rescue hotline Alarm Phone claimed.
The Tuesday morning rescue was first reported in the Sicilian news portal La Sicilia, which quoted Ragusa mayor Roberto Ammatuna as confirming the rescue operation.
Ammatuna said with the approaching summer season, such rescues will most likely “intensify” and called for EU member states to directly police the Mediterranean sea.
“The presence of a European military force in the Mediterranean is now inevitable. The saving of thousands of human lives cannot only be the prerogative of some NGOs,” he said.
The boat of 450 migrants was in Malta's search and rescue zone on Monday, but Maltese authorities did not intervene.
An Armed Forces of Malta spokesperson declined to comment and instead asked for questions to be sent by email. Those questions remained unanswered at the time of writing.
It was Sicily's second migrant landing within the space of a few hours, after another 57 asylum seekers landed in Lampedusa on Monday night, La Sicilia reported. A further 145 migrants are expected to be brought to shore at Augusta, Sicily later on Tuesday. They were rescued by the Sea Watch 4 rescue ship.
Alarm Phone first reported the 500 distressed people on Monday evening, who appealed to the authorities demanding an “immediate rescue operation.”
Earlier on Monday, Alarm Phone also alerted the Maltese authorities about 26 people in distress off Libya.
The 26 people have been out at sea for three days and have now run out of food and water.
An Alarm Phone spokesperson said, as of Tuesday morning, there is still no news on the situation of the 26 people.
The NGO Sea-Eye had accused the Maltese rescue coordination centre of refusing to coordinate rescue efforts of these 24 people, who had been in distress in a wooden boat.
On Thursday, the oil tanker Ross Sea approached the wooden boat and in radio communication with the Sea-Eye 4, the captain said he had tried to reach the rescue coordination centre in Malta but received no response for a while. He was then told to stay around and keep on monitoring from distance.
Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler said: “We regularly receive no response from the rescue centre in Malta during maritime emergencies. Why didn't Malta directly ask Ross Sea to rescue the people? Malta did not send any help for three days."
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