Rescue ship with 572 migrants to dock in Italy after hunger plea

Italy gives permission for the 'Ocean Viking' to dock in Sicily

A ship with more than 500 migrants on board that has been sailing in the central Mediterranean for almost a week has been given permission to dock in Sicily.

A plea was made to allow the Ocean Viking to come into port on Thursday after rescuers said the ship was running out of food.

"The Ocean Viking this evening received from the Italian maritime authorities a long-awaited news: the 572 survivors will disembark in Augusta, in Sicily," the Marseille-based NGO SOS Mediterranee said on Twitter.

The announcement came after the NGO vessel carried out one of its largest rescues in years on Sunday night, involving a boat that set off from Libya with 369 men, women and children and that was at risk of capsizing.

"Such large unseaworthy wooden boats launched from the coast of Libya had not been encountered by our teams in several years," the Ocean Viking's operator, SOS Mediterranee, said.

On Thursday, SOS Mediterranee said “the situation is worsening by the hour” and tensions on board were increasing in the summer heat.

“Our medical team reports increasing cases of psychological distress. The absence of information is no longer bearable for survivors.”

One migrant jumped overboard on Wednesday.

The NGO quoted him as saying: “If I knew when we would disembark, I could hold on. But I cannot take this uncertainty any more".

The operation was Ocean Viking's sixth rescue within days and brought the total number of migrants onboard to 572.

Since the start of the summer, the number of crossings have increased as migrants take advantage of the good weather and calmer seas, but the number of people lost at sea has also risen.

So far this year, more than 880 migrants have died trying to reach Europe from North Africa, according to the International Organization for Migration.

SOS Mediterranee says EU governments are neglecting co-ordinated search-and-rescue action in a bid to discourage migrants from attempting the crossing from war-torn Libya, where they are often victims of organised crime and militia violence.

Updated: July 9th 2021, 9:13 AM