A group of 44 migrants lost at sea in the central Mediterranean were located last night and taken on board the Italian Navy vessel Foscari during a search and rescue operation coordinated by Malta.

The migrants, who are suffering from exhaustion, are now believed to be on the way to Augusta in Sicily.

The Department of Information said the migrants were initially indicated to be around 135 nautical miles south west of Malta, within the Libyan SAR region of responsibility.

Malta’s Rescue and Coordination Centre immediately issued a Navtex warning message and alerted navigation in the area.

Malta also contacted the migrants onboard the boat by satellite phone, establishing their conditions and local weather state in their area.

Simultaneously, it kept in constant contact with the Italian authorities at in Rome who were initially coordinating the SAR efforts, as well as with Tunis and NATO in Naples, so as to enquire whether any of their respective assets were in the area.

Tunis deployed a patrol craft and a Tunisian flagged tug-boat to proceed towards the migrants’ last reported position. Both vessels conducted a search in the area, but with negative results.

By Wednesday afternoon, when the migrants’ boat was tracked as having entered the Maltese SRR, the Italian authorities declared that Lampedusa was not a place of safety for disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea.

Two successive searches were conducted in the late afternoon and at night by the AFM Air Wing’s KingAir maritime patrol aircraft, covering an area of 2,9252 NM, with negative results.

Yesterday morning, the AFM’s KingAir again conducted an unsuccessful search in Malta’s SRR, south of Lampedusa and 40 to 55 nautical miles south west of Malta, covering a total area of 4,2482 NM.

Another search by a Frontex aircraft assigned to the mission was also unsuccessful.  At this stage, Rome said the migrants may have been recovered by a fishing vessel.

Yesterday evening, Rome informed the AFM that the migrants had been sighted 15 NM within the Maltese SRR by an Italian fishing vessel in a position 125 NM south west of Malta, and 56 NM south of Lampedusa. The Foscari, which was just four nautical miles away, was redirected to the area.

By 9 p.m., the migrants’ rubber boat was sighted. Given the bad weather at the time, the migrants were taken onboard the naval vessel.

A 39-year-old Somali woman who had given birth to a girl on the rubber dinghy was transferred by helicopter to a clinic in Lampedusa, from where she was then taken to the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Agrigento.

The other migrants, who seemed to be suffering from exhaustion, are still on the Foscari which is awaiting instructions.

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