The charity group Sea-Eye said the vessel Sea-Eye 4 was assigned to the port of Trapani, in western Sicily, on Saturday evening. Most of the adults were to be transferred to other ships for preventative quarantine against COVID-19, while some 160 minors, including babies and other children younger than 4, were to be taken to shelters on land.
Many of the passengers came from countries in West Africa, Egypt or Morocco, said Giovanna di Benedetto, an official from Save the Children in Italy. Shouts of joy from those aboard Sea-Eye 4 could be heard on Trapani's dock as the vessel drew near, SkyTG24 TV reported.
About half of the migrants were rescued from a sinking wooden boat on Nov. 4, while the other passengers had been plucked to safety from the sea in separate operations. Sea-Eye officials lamented that Malta, a European Union island nation in the central Mediterranean, hadn’t responded to the wooden boat’s distress signal in its own search area.
Meanwhile, another charity ship, Ocean Viking, with 306 migrants aboard, many of them feeling ill in rough seas, was still awaiting assignment of a port near Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island south of Sicily, said the humanitarian organization SOS Mediterranee, which operates the ship.
Earlier Sunday, in waters off Lampedusa, an Italian Coast Guard boat pulled up alongside Ocean Viking to evacuate two brothers, both minors, whose health conditions had worsened, SOS Mediterranee tweeted. Four others were evacuated on Saturday.
On Saturday, Sea-Eye 4 received a delivery of food and blankets while it waited to learn where the migrants could land. Doctors aboard Sea-Eye 4 had treated 25 people for hypothermia, sea sickness and high blood pressure, along with injuries consistent with torture.
U.N. refugee agencies have long denounced the practice of torture in detention camps in Libya, where the migrants live, often for weeks or months, until human traffickers arrange their passage aboard flimsy boats.
The number of migrants crossing the dangerous central Mediterranean has surged this year to more than 54,000. Still, the numbers are dramatically below those of 2014-2017, when 120,000-180,000 people reached Italy each year, often in rickety smugglers’ boats.
Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration