Hundreds of migrants have been pulled from the waters of the Mediterranean by the Ocean Viking rescue vessel over the past two days.
The rescue of 438 people, including nine babies and 32 unaccompanied minors, took place in international waters off the coasts of Libya and Tunisia, the France-based SOS Mediterranee said on Friday.
The central Mediterranean crossing route from North Africa to Europe is the world's deadliest.
An added danger this summer is that traffickers are using “iron boats, which cost less than the usual wooden ones but are utterly unseaworthy”, the International Organisation for Migration has warned.
SOS Mediterranee said on Thursday that it had “rescued 272 people” of 23 different nationalities from three boats in the central Mediterranean.
On Friday, it rescued another 136 people when it “went to the aid of a number of boats in distress”.
Those on board were evacuated “in co-ordination with the Italian coastguard in the search and rescue area between Tunisia and Lampedusa”.
The tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, located about 145 kilometres from Tunisia, is the first port of call for many migrants seeking to make the treacherous sea journey to Europe from North Africa.
In total, “438 rescued people are currently on board”, SOS Mediteranee said.
The Ocean Viking was “heading towards Genoa” in northern Italy because Italian authorities had ordered it to go to the distant port to leave the migrants, the group added.
At least 2,013 people have died or gone missing so far this year attempting to cross the central Mediterranean, according to the UN migration agency.
That is noticeably higher than its figure for the whole of 2022, which was 1,417.
In June, one boat that sank in the western Mediterranean killed at least 82 people and is one of the deadliest incidents involving migrants in the area.