Seventy migrants were rescued at sea and brought to Italy early on Saturday thanks to a new Italian humanitarian group called Mediterranea Saving Humans.
Mediterranea launched the first Italian-flagged migrant rescue vessel, called the Mare Jonio (Italian for Ionian Sea) on Oct. 3, the fifth anniversary of a 2013 migrant shipwreck off Italy’s Lampedusa island in which close to 400 men, women and children died.
The group’s stated purpose is to monitor the central Mediterranean for migrant vessels in distress, to ensure the authorities come to their aid, and to step in directly to carry out rescues if needed.
“Received communication from Malta on vessel in distress. Malta says has no assets and asked us to head to the scene. The vessel is 13 nautical miles from Mare Jonio and 26 nautical miles from Lampedusa,” Mediterranea tweeted in the small hours of Saturday.
“We are going, but request Italy intervention before it’s too late.”
After several hours of back-and-forth between Mediterranea, Malta, and Italy — which the group documented in a series of tweets — the Italian Coast Guard, which had initially refused to intervene, showed up and escorted the vessel, a wooden fishing boat, to Lampedusa.
Later on Saturday, Mediterranea tweeted that “we are happy to learn that, after a night of monitoring and calls for aid, these people are safe in Italy. The Mare Jonio mission continues.”
The comments of Malta’s side are not available now.
The rescued migrants had left from Libya and hail from Eritrea, Ghana, and Syria, La7 private broadcaster reported, showing footage of them disembarking on Italian soil just before dawn.
Mediterranea, which is made up of activists, NGOs, and leftwing Italian MPs, says on its website it decided to launch an Italian vessel because most international rescue NGOs have been banned from Italy’s ports.
So far this year, just over 20,000 migrants reached Italy by sea and an estimated 1,778 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean, according to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR.