(Adds Ansa report that 350 migrants have been saved - others still out at sea)
A group of some 620 migrants who left from Libya early in the morning issued an SOS after the engine on their vessel started misfiring.
The group is just one of a number detected south of Malta. The AFM estimated that some 1,500 migrants could be at sea heading North.
Ansa last night reported that 350 migrants were rescued about 30 miles from the Libyan coast. They were taken on board a merchant vessel.
Times of Malta managed to contact the migrants on a satellite phone number provided by a source. An Eritrean migrant on the other end of the line said there were many women, two children and at least one pregnant woman on board.
“Many people are vomiting, we have no water, we have no food… and the engine, sometimes it is stopping,” the migrant said.
He said the boat was carrying mainly Eritreans and Somalis. They are believed to have left from Sabratha, 66 kilometres west of the capital Tripoli, earlier this morning.
Italian rescue authorities picked up the SOS call from the boat and are coordinating the rescue.
The Armed Forces of Malta meanwhile said it is assisting the operations with an offshore patrol vessel which is on Frontex patrol.
The vessel is currently proceeding towards the rescue area.
The AFM said it is estimated that around 1,500 migrants departed on "several" boats from Libya.
Individual 1: Hello...
TOM: Hello... is there someone who speaks English?
Individual 1: Hello, hello... OK, OK
Individual 2: Hello
TOM: Hello, hi, do you speak English?
Individual 2: Ya... I speak English ya.
TOM: I am told that you are on a boat right now and you are trying to reach Europe.
Individual 2: Aah, but I don’t know ... [inaudible]
TOM: How many people are on board?
Individual 2: We are 620 people...
TOM: What nationalities are you?
Individual 2: We are from Eritrea. Most of us are Eritreans, some of them are Somalis and very few are Ethiopian...
TOM: Is the boat working or are you in trouble?
Individual 2: Yes we are travelling.
TOM: You are travelling...
Individual 2: Ya, but... [inaudible] ...was mixing oil with water, is travelling... slowly and suddenly the engine stopped, completely stopped.
TOM: So your engine isn’t working.
Individual 2: It is working but almost... [inaudible]...
TOM: You’re taking in water... right now.
Individual 2: Yes.
Individual: The woman [inaudible] are also pregnant.
TOM: How many women are on board?
Individual: [inaudible] the largest number is women.
Individual: Please help us [inaudible] we are nearly die [ing], we don’t have food, we don’t have water to drink, please we are suffering, help us please.
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