ABOARD THE SEABIRD — An Italian offshore supply vessel on Saturday rescued 65 migrants, including women and children, fleeing Libya to Europe on a crowded, wooden boat.
The migrant boat was drifting after its engine stopped working and was spotted by the Seabird, an NGO monitoring aircraft flying over the central Mediterranean. Those on board were not wearing life vests and were eventually rescued in international waters by the Asso Ventinove supply vessel near the Bouri oilfield following a request to do so from the Seabird. An Associated Press journalist flying with Seabird witnessed the rescue.
A Libyan coast guard vessel arrived on the scene shortly afterward to inspect the empty boat. It is common for Libyan authorities to retrieve engines following rescues.
The Asso Ventinove reported that all the people rescued, including five children, appeared in good health. In radio communication with the Seabird, the captain said he was waiting for orders from the rescue and coordination center in Rome to assign them a safe place to disembark the migrants.
So far this year some 44,000 people have reached European shores by crossing the central Mediterranean from Tunisia and Libya, often at the hands of smugglers who put them on unseaworthy boats. Roughly half of those who arrived disembarked on Lampedusa, an Italian island closer to North Africa than Italy.
Despite the increasing arrivals, many fail.
As of Sept. 25, more than 25,000 people had been intercepted by the EU-trained and equipped Libyan coast guard this year and returned to the war-torn country, according to the U.N. migration agency.
Once disembarked, the migrants are often placed in squalid detention centers where they are subject to extortion, torture and abuse.
There were also more than 1,100 deaths recorded by the IOM in the Central Mediterranean this year.