ROME (Reuters) – A charity rescue ship picked up 76 migrants on an overloaded wooden boat in the Mediterranean and was headed for the southern Italian port of Naples, the charity said on Saturday.
Another boat carrying 59 rescued migrants docked in Porto Empedocle in southern Sicily on Saturday as the number of people attempting the perilous central Mediterranean crossing grows.
There were seven women and 24 children among the 76 people picked up in international waters in the Maltese Search and Rescue zone on Friday night, the charity EMERGENCY said.
Crammed on deck, they waved and cheered as an EMERGENCY crew came into view in a rubber dinghy launched from the main rescue ship.
The 12-metre boat carrying the migrants had set sail from Libya late on Thursday and those rescued were from Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Syria, it added.
Italian authorities helped to coordinate the rescue and the charity boat, the Life Support, is expected to reach Naples on Monday.
Open Arms, another charity carrying out missions in the Mediterranean, said its Astral rescue yacht had sailed into Sicily, carrying 59 people including five children of whom two were only a few weeks old.
Open Arms had appealed to Italian authorities to assign it a port after saying it had initially been told to return the migrants to Tunisia.
Italy, a major route into Europe for hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and other migrants, has seen nearly 95,000 arrivals by sea so far this year, interior ministry data shows, more than double the number in the same period last year.
The central Mediterranean is one of the world’s most dangerous migration routes. More than 22,000 people have died or gone missing in its waters since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Also on Saturday, at least six people died and more than 50 were rescued after a migrant boat capsized while trying to cross the Channel from France to Britain.
(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)