Update 2 | Italy recovers nine bodies as 'thousands' cross the Mediterranean

Italian coastguards rescue 144 migrants from one vessel as nine perish off the coast of Libya • Malta’s armed forces offering assistance to Italian rescue operation

Italian coastguards rescuing migrants (File photo)
Italian coastguards rescuing migrants (File photo)

Italian coastguards recovered nine bodies from the sea after a boat carrying more than 150 migrants sank off the coast of Libya.
Rescuers, Italy said, managed to save 144 of the migrants and were still searching for others. The vessel overturned 80 miles off the Libya coast.

A spokesperson for the Maltese Armed Forces confirmed that Malta was assisting Italy in its search and rescue operation. The AFM has also deployed its P51 offshore patrol vessel and remains actively engaged through its operations centre as the Italians coordinate all operations.

Sources told MaltaToday that Malta and Italy are working on some 26 cases – some of which could be duplicate calls – as thousands are crossing the Mediterranean. One source said there could be as much as 3,000 migrants crossing the sea at a given moment.

Merchant vessels are also being diverted to assist any migrants in distress until the arrival of the Italian authorities.

In the afternoon, the AFM Operations Centre dispatched an Italian Military Mission helicopter following a request by MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) Rome to assist in the immediate disembarkation of a female pregnant migrant. Earlier, the migrant was rescued by a merchant vessel as part of the ongoing Search and Rescue operations taking place in the Southern Mediterranean coordinated by MRCC Rome.

The migrant, believed to be of Somali origin, was winched aboard the AB212 III helicopter by the Italo-Maltese crew and was transferred to St Luke’s helipad where an awaiting ambulance transferred the migrant to Mater Dei hospital for further medical treatment.

The improved weather conditions mean that the flow of refugees and migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean on smugglers’ boats will increase.

In the first three months of 2015, Italy had already registered more than 10,000 migrants arriving and about 2,000 were rescued at sea during the first weekend of April in the Channel of Sicily. On Sunday, the Italian Coast Guard said that a total of 2,782 migrants were saved over the weekend, 1,116 on Sunday alone. Between April 10-12, Italy rescued 5,629 migrants from 22 different vessels.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, most migrants recorded this year come from countries in West Africa as well as Somalia and Syria, the IMO said, using Libya as a country of transit.

Around 3,500 people are estimated to have drowned and 170,000 reached Italy as the migrant crisis intensified with continuing instability in Libya, the staging point for most of the boats trying to cross to Sicily.

In February, more than 300 drowned when attempting the crossing in cold weather and rough seas.