Malta accepts dozens of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean

Almost 200 migrants remain aboard the humanitarian rescue ship Ocean Viking

SOS Mediterranee crew help children disembark from the Ocean Viking into Maltese rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Malta has agreed to take in 35 migrants fleeing Libya who were rescued by the humanitarian ship a day earlier. (AP Photo/Renata Brito)

Malta on Friday accepted 35 migrants who were rescued by a humanitarian ship in the Mediterranean Sea a day earlier.

The Ocean Viking on Thursday assisted Maltese authorities and pulled the migrants from an overcrowded wooden boat some 240 kilometres (149 miles) from Malta and 28 kilometres (17 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The group was spotted in international waters under Malta’s search and rescue responsibility.

The Ocean Viking had initially counted 36 people but corrected the number to 35 after Friday's transfer.

Still, 182 migrants remain on the ship, which is operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders.

Malta has refused to take the remaining people in, arguing that they were found in international waters under Libya’s search and rescue area while Italy has deferred responsibility.

Libyan authorities had offered the port of Al Khums, which the ship refused.

Erkinalp Kelisi of Doctors Without Borders said he had a hard time explaining to the migrants who remained on the ship why they couldn’t leave as well.

“They are all people, they are all equal, and the system of disembarkation that is imposed has to be the same for all.”