Hundreds of migrants rescued from smugglers’ boats in Mediterranean

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Hundreds of migrants from Africa and Syria were rescued from smugglers’ boats in the Mediterranean by a Spanish charity over the weekend. 

Rescue ship Open Arms Uno said it picked up 372 peopl trying to cross the central Mediterranean Sea to the mainland of Europe in unseaworthy boats. They also rescued the body of a man who had been shot by smugglers, officials said. 

The ship has remained at sea and is now looking for a safe port to land the rescued migrants, including some who need medical attention, and many who are suffering from dehydration, according to Open Arms spokesperson Laura Lanuza, who said the NGO had made two requests to dock in Malta. 

In all, the ship performed three rescues in 24 hours. In the largest rescue, Open Arms picked up 294 people, mostly Egyptians, from an overcrowded barge in waters south of Malta in a nighttime operation that spanned nearly five hours before dawn Sunday. Those rescued said they had been at sea for four days.

The packed boat had been spotted by volunteer pilots combing the Mediterranean for people in distress, and a photo showed its decks packed with people waving for help.

Before that, the Open Arms rescued 59 migrants from Syria, Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea, among them 10 minors, from an oil platform they had reached in international waters near Tunisia. Still in the flimsy smugglers’ boat was the wrapped body of a migrant who had been shot on shore by smugglers, Lanuza said.

“The smugglers forced the people to take the corpse with them. They spent a day or so at sea, and kept the corpse until they were saved,’’ Lanuza said.

On Saturday morning, the Open Arms rescued 19 people from a rubber dinghy in off Libya in international waters. They included 16 people from Syria.

An Associated Press photographer on board the Open Arms Uno said during each rescue, desperate people flung themselves into the water, complicating the operation.