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Civil refugee rescue fleet searches for survivors of migrant shipwreck

Meanwhile Malta agrees to take in rescued migrants on board the Open Arms

THE civil refugee rescue fleet was searching for survivors in the Mediterranean today after a wooden boat carrying approximately 70 people sank near Lampedusa on Sunday night. 

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) reported in the morning that 40 people had been rescued but about 30 more were unaccounted for. 

Later in the afternoon International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo wrote on Twitter that “13 corpses (all women coming from Western Africa) have been recovered.”

The Ocean Viking, a rescue ship operated by French charities Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, requested to join the search and rescue mission after it contacted the coastguard in the morning. 

MSF’s project co-ordinator Jay Berger spoke to the Star from the ship as it was nearing the end of its designated search area. 

Mr Berger said it was positive that the Italian authorities have co-ordinated with the Ocean Viking, but that more still needs to be done. 

“It’s good that they’ve acknowledged our presence,” Mr Berger said, “but these incidents continue to happen again and again. Lives are being lost needlessly.

“The EU leaders are trying to make progress, but there’s still nothing in place as far as rescue capacity and disembarkation plans. 

“This is still the deadliest migration route in the world. We’re happy that things are moving in a good direction, but until there’s something concrete that is really putting lives first, this will keep happening.” 

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesman Charlie Yaxley said: “Once again, we are mourning the loss of life of a preventable tragedy on the Mediterranean Sea. 

“Discussions among European states on a common approach to disembarking rescued passengers is encouraging. But it must go hand in hand with a massive increase in search and rescue capacity. 

“An EU state search and rescue operation must return to the seas. Aerial surveillance currently deployed by Operation Sophia can help identify boats in distress but they are incapable of pulling people in distress out of the water.

“At the same time, NGO rescue operations must be acknowledged. There are currently fewer NGO boats than we saw in the past as a result of restrictions and sanctions. 

“These must now be lifted and the crucial role played by NGOs acknowledged. Their humanitarian efforts should be praised, not stigmatised or criminalised.”

Meanwhile Spanish NGO Open Arms rescued 40 people, including a child and a baby, on Sunday night from another wooden boat in the central Mediterranean. 

“The sea situation worsens aboard the Open Arms,” the charity tweeted today along with a video showing the choppy conditions on board.

“Everything is complicated. We remain without news from the Maltese authorities. All rescued people need a safe harbour to disembark.”

Open Arms founder Oscar Camps tweeted this evening that Malta has offered to take in the migrants on board the ship and will transfer them onto one of the country’s boats tomorrow morning. 

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