A total of 374 migrants were rescued in two days, said SOS Mediterranee, which operates the aid ship Ocean Viking.
More than 370 migrants and refugees were rescued off the Libyan coast by the humanitarian ship Ocean Viking in two days, a French NGO that runs the boat announced on Saturday.
SOS Mediterranee said “106 people were rescued… in international waters 28 nautical miles (52 km) from the Libyan coast” on Friday evening.
“The majority of people aboard a rubber dinghy were found poisoned by the oil fumes,” he said. They came from Guinea, Sudan and Sierra Leone.
On Friday morning, the Ocean Viking took 149 people aboard two boats following an SOS signal, including 58 minors and four babies – just one month old, he said.
Since Thursday, a total of 374 people have been rescued by the Ocean Viking, including 165 children, SOS Mediterranee said.
In total, 131 minors are unaccompanied.
UPDATE Within 48 hours, the @SOSMedIntl The team rescued 4 distressed overcrowded inflatable boats.
Of the 374 survivors on board #OceanViking, there are 21 babies and 35 children. 131 unaccompanied minors. 2 pregnant women. All survivors urgently need to disembark to a place of safety. pic.twitter.com/5KVZYrqo1L
– SOS MÉDITERRANEE (@SOSMedIntl) 23 January 2021
War-torn Libya is a major gateway for African migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe.
Libyan-based smugglers launch ships, many of them fragile rubber dinghies or rickety fishing boats, crowded with migrants hoping to reach European shores to seek asylum.
The Central Mediterranean route is described by UNHCR as the most dangerous migration route in the world – one in six people who leave the coasts of North Africa die.
While many drowned at sea, thousands were intercepted by the Libyan coast guard, supported by Italy and the European Union, and returned to Libya.
Most of them end up in detention, often in horrific conditions.
Since February 2017, at least 36,000 people have been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard and returned to the North African country, according to UN figures.
The Ocean Viking set sail on January 11 after being stranded in Italy for five months before being released in December. Authorities had cited suspected security concerns for the robbery.
Ocean Viking is currently the only NGO-run rescue vessel in the region, according to SOS Mediterranean official Sophie Beau, who said “the others were stranded by Italian authorities like the Ocean Viking earlier.”
Most migrants leave Libya and Tunisia to attempt a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean to try to enter Europe via Italy.
More than 1,200 died last year trying to cross the Mediterranean.
According to data from the Italian Interior Ministry, there has been an increase in the number of people trying to reach Italy with at least 31,000 refugee arrivals in 2020, up from nearly 10,000 in the same period l ‘last year.