A pregnant Somali woman has been brought to Malta after having been airlifted from a merchant ship carrying hundreds of rescued migrants off Libya.
Italian authorities requested assistance from Malta after the woman started complaining of stomach pains and was vomiting.
The woman was brought to Malta on an Italian Military Mission helicopter which landed on the helicopter pad of St Luke's Hospital, where an ambulance was waiting - the helipad at Mater Die hospital is currently non-operational because of nearby building works, .
The airlift was part of as many as 13 rescue missions taking place simultaneously by Italian and Maltese military vessels as well as several merchant ships that have been diverted to migrants in distress off the Libyan coast.
The situation reached crisis point at the weekend with 5,629 migrants having been rescued in three days between Friday and Sunday. Some 1,000 other migrants remain at sea.
Authorities are overwhelmed and unable to say exactly how many people are out there at the moment but there are expected to be more than 1,000 people.
Libyan sources said that many migrant boats today left from the coastal towns of Sabratha and Zawiya. The smuggling network controlling these areas has been preparing for weeks, waiting for a window of clear weather to send thousands of migrants.
And the weather has been very good for them.
The Italian military said this morning that nine people had died after a boat carrying some 150 migrants capsized some 80 miles off the Libyan coast. The rest of the people on board were rescued.
Yesterday the coast guard intercepted 26 migrant boats.
The Rome rescue centre, which is coordinating the ongoing Frontex border patrol mission, scrambled five Italian military and coastguard vessels. A Maltese patrol boat along with several merchant ships also sailing through the area.
“It’s an absolute crisis,” a military source told Times of Malta, pointing out that the number of rescues was unprecedented for this year. There had been similar incidents last year but this year “We’ve seen nothing like this and I don’t think we’ve ever had a day like today at this time of year,” the source said.
Smugglers operating from a zone west of Tripoli have exploited a window of very good weather in the past couple of days, sending dozens of boats, mostly from the coastal towns of Sabratha, Zawiya and Zuwara.
Sources in Libya said the smugglers were likely towing empty dinghies to sea and then transferring the migrants to them from larger vessels. “The dinghies they are using are absolutely worthless, they’re unable to keep afloat even after a few dozen miles, which means that if they had to start the journey from the Libyan coast, they would sink within the country’s territorial waters.
“So they are probably using this system to make sure they cross the sea border,” the source said.
Times of Malta late last week managed to make contact with a boat carrying 522 migrants from this group on Friday. An Eritrean man who answered the call on a satellite phone on board said the situation on the dinghy was dire and pointed out that there were many women, one of them pregnant, and at least two children on board.