A Spanish NGO has rescued 47 migrants in the nick of time as the boat they were crammed into sank in the Mediterranean Sea.
The dramatic rescue, carried out by Open Arms, took place halfway between Tunisia and the Italian island of Lampedusa on 24th April around 3pm.
A pregnant woman, a child, and a baby are among the survivors.
Open Arms said in a statement obtained by Newsflash: “Shipwreck! We rescued a boat adrift in international waters near the island of Lampedusa, with 47 people, a pregnant woman in serious condition and a baby and a child among them.
“Crammed for two days in a metal shell that sailed from Tunisia, it sank before our eyes after distributing life jackets.”
Open Arms founder Oscar Camps wrote on social media: “The Astral ship has rescued 47 people alive in a shipwreck in international waters near Lampedusa, including one eight-month-old baby and a pregnant woman in critical condition.”
Open Arms later tweeted: “We have disembarked in Lampedusa. The 47 people who survived for two days in the Mediterranean, adrift and shipwrecked, cramped in a metal boat, are finally in a safe port.”
And journalist Lola Hierro, who witnessed the rescue operation, wrote online: “If we hadn’t shown up, today there would have been 47 more deaths. We arrived just in time, as the boat was sinking.”
The migrants rescued from the boat hail from sub-Saharan Africa. They had been trying to reach the Italian coast.
The sinking of the boat they were in happened in a matter of 10 seconds, Spanish media reported.
Rescuer Esther Camps told how the boat disappeared under the water when the crew was in the middle of the operation. She said: “It didn’t even capsize or break, it simply disappeared.”
The pregnant survivor, Aisha, comes from the Ivory Coast and was aboard the vessel with her sister Agnes.
Overcome by exhaustion, she had to be lifted onto the Astral by four people and given first aid.
The migrants had set sail from Sfax, Tunisia, two days before the sinking. They were located by the Astral following a radio alert sent from the adrift boat.
A nearby fishing boat also participated in the rescue efforts.
The rescued baby, Mohamed, was screaming and shaking from the cold when rescued, local media reported.
The others were suffering from numb limbs and symptoms of hypothermia when pulled aboard the Astral.
All had paid around EUR 600 for the journey.
One of the survivors, 33-year-old Oumou from Mali, had left behind an abusive husband and two children. She said: “I am a victim of a forced marriage; I couldn’t take it anymore.”
The British-flagged Astral sailboat is not authorised to take survivors on board and take them to port.
Its job is to locate drifting boats, inform the Coast Guard of the passengers’ situation, provide the passengers with life jackets and water, check their condition, and wait with them until a rescue ship comes to their aid.
It can only embark them in cases where the lives of the migrants are in danger, which is what happened on this occasion.
The Astral had set sail from the port of Badalona, near Barcelona, on 21st April to participate in the search and rescue of migrants adrift in the central Mediterranean.
According to the International Organization for Migration, the first quarter of this year is the deadliest since 2017, with at least 579 bodies in waters that have accumulated almost 27,000 dead or missing since 2014.
Italy is currently the main point of irregular entries into Europe.
The survivors are now in the hands of the Italian immigration authorities.