Hundreds of migrants rescued from smuggling boats in the Mediterranean

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

The Open Arms Uno rescue ship said it picked up 372 people trying to cross the central Mediterranean Sea to the European mainland in seaworthy boats. They also rescued the body of a man who had been shot by smugglers, officials said.

The ship remained at sea and is now seeking a safe port to disembark the rescued migrants, some of whom need medical attention and many are suffering from dehydration, according to Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza, who said the NGO had made two docking requests in Malta.

In all, the ship made three rescues in 24 hours. In the biggest rescue, Open Arms recovered 294 people, mostly Egyptians, from an overcrowded barge in waters south of Malta in a nighttime operation that lasted almost five hours before dawn on Sunday. Those rescued said they had been at sea for four days.

The crowded 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.

Earlier, Open Arms rescued 59 migrants from Syria, Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea, including 10 minors, from an oil rig they reached in international waters near Tunisia. Also in the fragile smugglers’ boat was the wrapped body of a migrant who had been shot on the shore by smugglers, Lanuza said.

“The smugglers forced people to take the body with them. They spent about a day at sea and held the corpse until they were rescued,” Lanuza said.

On Saturday morning, the Open Arms rescued 19 people from a dinghy off the coast of Libya in international waters. Among them were 16 people from Syria.

An Associated Press photographer aboard the Open Arms Uno said with each rescue desperate people jumped into the water, complicating the operation.

Earnest A. Martinez