The rescues by the Italian coast guard and navy ships, aided by Irish and German vessels and humanitarian groups, are the latest by a multinational patrol south of the Italian island of Sicily. nA flotilla of ships saved 668 people from boats in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday, authorities in Italy said, bringing the week’s total of refugees plucked from the sea to 13,000 people.
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Warner spring weather has led to a surge of people attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe.
The Irish military said the vessel Le Roisin saved 123 people from a 12m-long (40-ft) rubber dinghy and recovered a male body. A German ship was involved in four separate rescue operations, the Italian coast guard said on Saturday evening.
Meanwhile, with shelters filling up in Sicily, the Italian navy vessel Vega headed toward Reggio Calabria, a southern Italian mainland port, bringing 135 survivors and 45 bodies from a rescue a day earlier. The Vega was due to dock on Sunday.
Other survivors who arrived on Saturday in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo told authorities they had witnessed a fishing boat filled with“ hundreds” of people sink on Thursday, a Save The Children spokeswoman, Giovanna Di Benedetto, told The Associated Press by telephone from Sicily.
According to survivors, two smugglers’ fishing boats and a dinghy set sail on Wednesday night from Libya’s coast. Di Benedetto said the survivors were among 500 or so aboard the one fishing boat that didn’t sink and the dinghy.
“All of this must be verified, of course,” said Di Benedetto, but if the survivors’ accounts bear out, as many as 400 people could have drowned, with only a very few of those on the vessel that sank able to reach the other boats.
Authorities say many boats in the past few years apparently have sunk without a trace in the Mediterranean, with the dead never found. Often the only news about them comes when family members in Africa or Europe tell authorities that their loved ones never arrived after setting sail from Libya.
Under a European Union deal, tens of thousands of those rescued at sea and seeking asylum were supposed to be relocated to other EU nations from Italy and Greece, where most of the refugees have landed. But with resentment building in some European countries about taking in more people, the plan never really took off, and only a small percentage of those slated for relocation have actually been moved.
At the Vatican on Saturday, Pope Francis told several hundred children, among them many migrants, who came from southern Italy that migrants “aren’t a danger but they are in danger.”
The pontiff held a red life vest given to him by a volunteer. He told the children the vest was used by a Syrian girl who died while trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos.
“She’s in heaven, she’s watching us,” he said.
Among those in the audience was a Nigerian youth who lost his parents in 2014 as the family tried to reach Italy by sea.
The pope has repeatedly expressed dismay that some European nations have refused to accept those fleeing poverty or war, and have even thrown up razor-wire fences and other barriers to thwart their arrivals.