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Charity ship Ocean Viking rescues 50 migrants from the Mediterranean

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Charity ship Ocean Viking rescues 50 migrants from the Mediterranean
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Ocean Viking/Handout via REUTERS
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Charity ship Ocean Viking rescued 50 migrants on Sunday from the Mediterranean Sea, not far off Libya's coast.

The Norwegian-flagged ship run jointly by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, sent its boats to pick up pregnant women close to giving birth, 12 minors, and 37 men, all from sub-Saharan African countries.

At least two people fell ill when they boarded the Ocean Viking, while three others were soaked in fuel and two suffered from mild hypothermia.

The migrants were rescued 14 hours after sending an urgent call for help to the Ocean Viking as well as Libyan, Italian, and Maltese authorities, the United Nation's refugee agency and Moonbird, a humanitarian observation plane.

On the morning of the rescue, the charity ship tried to contact Libyan authorities without success. An AP journalist aboard the charity ship witnessed three phone calls to the Libyan Joint Rescue and Coordination Centre than went unanswered.

The migrants were finally rescued from a rubber boat without a working engine at 1:30 p.m. local time.

As required by maritime law, the ship asked Libyan authorities responsible for rescue coordination in that part of the Mediterranean to provide a safe place to disembark the migrants but also made requests to Italian and Maltese officials. They received no immediate response from these countries, AP reported.

From offshore platforms to rescuing migrants - take a tour of the ship in the player above

Once a support and rescue vessel for offshore oil platforms, the Ocean Viking has undergone several changes to fit its new purpose: rescue migrants from drowning as they attempt to reach Europe by sea.

Built in 1986, the Norway-flagged ship is 69.3m long and 155m wide and can reach a speed of 14 knots. It is also able to manoeuvre fast despite its size.

The Ocean Viking was recently chartered by SOS Mediterranee after the group lost its previous rescue ship, the Aquarius, after a series of standoffs with Italian and Maltese authorities.

What was once a spacious deck now houses a medical clinic, with four hospital beds, a large shelter for men and a separate and smaller shelter for women and children.

Decorating the metallic shelters are animal figures, a map of Africa and Europe, a clock and drawings made by the previous rescuees.

One of the closed containers, empty for now, reminds migrants of the risks facing their perilous journey: death.

At least 640 people have died so far this year according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and nearly 16,000 migrants have died on that route since 2014.

SOS Mediterranee started operating in February 2016 and has since rescued 30,000 people — mostly with its former ship, the Aquarius, but it has also witnessed 47 deaths at sea.

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