Hannah Roberts, Daily Mail, March 5, 2015
Almost 1,000 migrants have been rescued in a 24 hour period as their boats floundered crossing the Mediterranean on their way to Europe.
At least ten people perished when their vessel carrying around 130 people capsized in freezing waters off the Libyan coast.
The Italian coast guard had rushed to the scene after being alerted by a tugboat working for Libyan offshore oil rigs and were able to save around 121 people.
In the first two months of this year, 7,882 migrants arrived in Italy by boat, a figure that has surged by 43 per cent on last year’s record numbers, according to figures from Italy’s interior ministry.
In the 24 hours between Tuesday and Wednesday Italy’s Coast Guard rescued a total of 941 migrants in seven rescue operations in the Sicilian Channel, it said.
Two rubber dinghies and five boats carrying Syrians Palestinians, Tunisians, Libyans as well as sub Saharan Africans were rescued in waters about 50 miles north of Libya.
Among the rescued were more than 30 children and one pregnant woman, who was taken to hospital for urgent medical attention.
The swelling numbers demonstrate the increasing desperation of those attempting to flee the growing chaos and bloodshed in Libya.
At the end of the year the Italian government closed their comprehensive search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum, which cost nine million euros a month, saying it was too much responsibility for Italy alone.
It was replaced by the scaled-down Triton mission, a border control operation which patrols only the area 30 miles around the European coast.
Last month around 300 Sub Saharan Africans were thought to have drowned trying to cross the sea when their boats overturned in 20 foot waves.
Mauro Casinghini, Head of Rescue for the Order of Malta in Italy, said that Frontex was ‘no substitute’ for Mare Nostrum.
He said that he expects thousands more people to die this year. The summer season for travel no longer exists he said.
‘If sea is calm they go. If sea is rough they don’t go. The problem is, if the bat capsizes and the water is cold, they die quicker. ‘
Those rescued were taken to Sicily on Tuesday. More than 183 were expected to arrive at Pozzallo on Wednesday with an oil tanker while another 319 was approaching Porto Empedocle. The coastguard ship Dattilo was bringing 439 migrants to Augusta along with the corpses of the 10 drowned migrants.
MP Maurizio Gasparri of Berlusconi’s centre right Forza Italia said: ‘Hundreds of migrants ready to disembark and a new tragedy in the Sicilian Channel. An ongoing disaster which this incompetent government cannot tackle. It continues to tolerate the cynical action of criminals in so doing feeding the rapidly growing phenomenon of trafficking. Terrorists ready to strike our country may be among them.’
MP Matteo Salvini leader of the anti-immigration Northern League said: ‘ Another 10 dead and 900 illegal immigrants landing. In Rome and Brussels there are many with full pockets and blood on their hands. Stop the boats setting off, stop the deaths, stop the invasion.’