A Maersk ship has picked up 352 Syrian and African refugees who were on board a sinking fishing vessel just off the coast of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea, The Local has reported. The Danish-owned ship transported the refugees to Trapani, on the Italian island of Sicily. Forty-three children were amongst those rescued.
A Maersk Line spokesman announced that the ship, the Evelyn Maersk, had been contacted by authorities on Saturday night with a request to re-route to the fishing vessel. She reached the vessel, which was taking on water, in just over two hours and was able to safely bring the refugees on board.
This follows a similar incident in July when a Danish owned Torm ship, the Torm Lotte, rescued around 300 refugees in similar circumstances. In that case, it was the Italian Coast guard who put out the request. Those passengers were taken to Malta.
Illegal immigration by boat is becoming a major headache for Italy, and for the small island of Lampedusa in particular, being the southernmost of Italy’s islands. Lampedusa lies in the Mediterranean Sea approximately 80 miles north east of Tunisia, and 130 miles south of Sicily.
On just one day in June of this year, 1,271 people arrived on the island on four boats. The Italian navy rescued 574 from one boat; the coastguard intercepted another carrying 251 people, whilst two boats, one carrying 352 migrants and a smaller vessel with 94 on board, managed to avoid detection and dock on the island. The refugees were mostly from Somalia, Eritrea and Syria.
The previous day, at least 1,400 asylum seekers on six boats had been intercepted by the Italian navy, highlighting the scale of the problem. The total number of migrants landing on Italian soil this year is expected to sail past the 63,000 tally set in 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring uprisings.
Last October the Italian navy launched operation “Mare Nostrum” as part of a response to two shipwrecks that occurred during that month, killing 400 migrants attempting to make the crossing. Shipwrecks are common as the vessels used to transport the migrants are often small fishing vessels unsuited to sea voyages, and are typically overcrowded.
The huge influx has meant that Lampedusa is struggling to house the migrants before transferring them onwards to facilities for asylum seekers on Sicily. In a statement on the problem, the charity Save the Children criticised the Lampedusa asylum centre as “not suitable to host the migrants. They have to be transferred immediately to adequate structures.”