Rescue alert launched for boat loaded with 500 migrants near Sicily

Crew member gives lifejackets to migrants on an overcrowded inflatable boat in the Mediterranean Sea, July 23, 2022.— Reuters.

About 500 migrants need to be rescued from a boat off the coast of Sicily, the Alarm Phone charity said on Friday, amid a dramatic increase in sea arrivals to Italy and a recent deadly shipwreck.

The charity, which picks up calls from migrant vessels in distress, said on Twitter it had alerted “competent authorities” and urged them: “Don’t waste time: send help immediately!”.

The boat left from Libya and is “south of Sicily” in Italy’s search and rescue (SAR) maritime zone, Alarm Phone added. The EU border force Frontex, which operates spotter flights off the Italian coast, declined immediate comment.

Italy’s migrant sea rescue capabilities have come under scrutiny following a Feb. 26 shipwreck near the southern region of Calabria, in which at least 72 migrants died.

Police vessels tried but failed to intercept the migrants’ wooden boat due to adverse weather, and the coast guard, better equipped to face rough seas, was not immediately activated.

Italy’s rightist government responded Thursday with tougher jail penalties for migrant smugglers and pledges to stop their illegal boat trips while opening up legal migration channels.

The announcement has not stopped irregular migrant inflows, with almost 3,000 people reaching Italy since Wednesday, compared to around 1,300 for the whole of March last year.

As many as 1,869 migrants from 41 separate boats arrived on the island of Lampedusa alone on Thursday, the ANSA news agency said, calling it a record.

At least seven Pakistanis died in a boat wreck near Libya’s port city of Benghazi, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) confirmed on Thursday.

Addressing a weekly press briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said the Pakistani embassy in Libya was facilitating the process of identification of the bodies.

The FO spokesperson said the bodies would be transported to Pakistan with the support of local authorities and the international committee of the Red Cross.

She maintained that the embassy and the foreign ministry were also in contact with the families of the deceased.

In another incident, last Sunday, at least 30 Pakistanis died and 17 were rescued after their overloaded boat sank in stormy seas off Italy’s southern Calabria region. 

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