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NGO migrant rescue ship docks in Italy

November 24, 2019

The ship Ocean Viking has docked in the Italian port of Messina, carrying 213 migrants saved at sea. But at least seven other people were killed after a boat capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The Ocean Viking
Archive photo of the Ocean VikingImage: picture-alliance/dpa/ANSA/F. Ruta

A charity rescue vessel on Sunday brought 213 migrants to shore in Italy after being granted permission to dock in the port of Messina due to poor weather conditions.

The migrants had been picked up by the ship, the Ocean Viking, in three rescue operations between Tuesday and Thursday. A man and a woman who was pregnant with twins had already been taken from the ship by helicopter.

Italy usually only opens its ports to rescue vessels with migrants on board if other EU states have agreed to take them in. In this case, Italy, Germany, France and Malta jointly applied to the European Commission to initiate the redistribution of the migrants, according to the Italian Interior Ministry.

It is the first time such an application has been made according to a basic protocol for migrant rescues agreed by these four countries at a meeting in Malta in late September.

The aid organizations SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which operate the Ocean Viking, used the occasion to call again on EU governments to coordinate a response to the "ongoing humanitarian disaster in the Mediterranean."

Read more: Follow the money: What are the EU's migration policy priorities?

Deadly capsize

Another Spanish NGO vessel, the Open Arms, operated by an organization of the same name, is still at sea with 73 people it saved in a separate incident. It has called on EU governments to "immediately" allow the migrants to disembark, describing the situation as "critical."

Seven people are reported to have died when an overcrowded boat carrying migrants capsized some 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa on Saturday. The Italian coast guard said it had rescued another 149 but that some 20 people were still missing.

Search operations were still underway on Sunday amid rough weather conditions. An investigation has been launched into the incident by Italian prosecutors.

Read more: Land migration in Africa twice as deadly as Mediterranean, says UNHCR 

Huddling in the cold in Vucjak

tj/sms (dpa, AFP)

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