Hundreds of migrants saved in Mediterranean as NGO accuses Italy of blocking rescue ship

Sea-Watch charity demands safe harbour after latest rescue mission

Members of the German charity Sea-Watch 3 rescue ship team help migrants on a deflating dinghy during a rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea, February 26, 2021. Picture taken February 26, 2021. Selene Magnolia/Sea-Watch/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT

A charity accused Italy of blocking a ship carrying hundreds of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Sea-Watch 3 vessel saved 363 migrants in just three days from boats attempting to cross from Africa into Europe.

However, efforts to find a safe port in Italy or Malta for migrants to disembark have been unsuccessful, German charity Sea-Watch said.

Under maritime law, states are required to appoint a port of safety immediately after a rescue.

Sea-Watch said it didn't know how long it would take for safe passage to be granted to an Italian port, with significant delays not uncommon.

"This has taken up to two weeks and more in some cases," Sea-Watch spokesman Oliver Kulikowski told The National.

He said Italy will often admit refugees only after other EU countries agree to resettle them. Sea-Watch said these unnecessary delays are costing lives.

"Yet again, Europe turns a blind eye while people are drowning and civil sea rescue organisations do their best to put an end to the dying at sea. While this year alone more than 170 people have already lost their lives in the Mediterranean, Europe is doing everything it can to prevent us from rescuing them," Hugo Grenier, head of mission on the Sea-Watch 3, said.

Sea-Watch said the rescued migrants were in desperate need of medical attention, with many suffering from burns, dehydration, hypothermia and seasickness.

The NGO said some were showing the physical and psychological consequences of previous detention in Libyan camps.

Sea-Watch 3 is the only active civilian rescue ship in the central Mediterranean.

It was detained by Italian authorities in July 2020 and was allowed back at sea only recently after a seven-month enforced break over safety and registration issues.

On Sunday, 15 people died after a rubber boat with 110 passengers capsized near the Libyan coastal town of Zawiya.

Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the International Organisation for Migration, said the Libyan coastguard rescued 95 people, including six women and two children.

“It is an additional tragedy that in most cases there is very little search to recover the bodies. The sight of bodies washing ashore later has sadly become too familiar,” she said.

See photos of migrants rescued by a Libyan coastguard vessel