Rescue ship Geo Barents saves 440 migrants in the Mediterranean off coast of Malta

This handout picture released on November 17, 2021, by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) shows MSF members resting on the Geo Barents crew after rescuing migrants.
This handout picture released on November 17, 2021, by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) shows MSF members resting on the Geo Barents crew after rescuing migrants. Copyright VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG / MSF / AFP
By Euronews
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The Geo Barents, a humanitarian vessel of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), rescued 440 migrants in distress in international waters off Malta on Tuesday.

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Rescuers from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), saved hundreds of migrants in distress on a skiff in international waters off Malta on Tuesday.

"After more than 11 hours of operation, the rescue is now complete and a total of 440 people, including 8 women and 30 children, are now safely on board the Geo Barents and are being cared for by the team," MSF Sea said on Twitter on Wednesday, posting photos of the rescue.

The rescue ship received a distress alert and changed course to assist, the NGO said.

"Unfortunately, the weather conditions did not allow our team to proceed directly with the rescue, which could have put the lives of the people and the MSF team at risk," a spokesperson said.

"This morning, at 4 am, after more than 10 hours of sailing in rough seas, our team finally reached the boat in distress," they added.

Italy migrants rescue new laws

In February, the Italian authorities detained the MSF humanitarian ship on charges of violating new rules on migrant rescue missions.

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Fratelli d'Italia party, took over a coalition government in October after promising to reduce the number of migrants arriving in Italy.

A new law forces humanitarian ships to carry out one rescue at a time, which critics say increases the risk of death in the central Mediterranean, which is considered the world's most perilous crossing for migrants.

Francisco Seco / AP
Migrants in a wooden boat float in the Mediterranean Sea south of the Italian island of Lampedusa on Aug. 11, 2022.Francisco Seco / AP

Italy's location makes it a prime destination for asylum seekers crossing from North Africa to Europe. Rome has long complained about the number of arrivals on its territory.

According to the Interior Ministry, more than 14,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the beginning of the year, compared to just over 5,300 during the same period last year and 4,300 in 2021.

However, NGOs carry only a small percentage of migrants wishing to reach Europe, most of whom are rescued by the coastguard or navy vessels.

The government still accuses NGOs of stimulating migrant arrivals and encouraging traffickers.

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