ROME (AFP) – A US warship has rescued 128 African migrants from an inflatable raft that was threatening to capsize in rough seas in the Mediterranean after a request from Malta, officials said Thursday.
The USS San Antonio, which is equipped with an amphibious transport dock that can help in rescue operations, was scrambled on Wednesday after a Maltese military aircraft spotted the dinghy.
“We successfully transferred 128 men between the ages of 20 and 30 from an inflatable raft on the San Antonio,” a US Navy official in Italy told AFP.
“The raft was being rocked by winds and seas and we had expected that overnight the seas would increase. If they were to be left out to sea they would probably be in the water right now,” he said.
“We provided food, water, medical attention and temporary shelter.”
The Maltese military said the migrants were mostly Gambian even though they had earlier said they were from Somalia. They were later transferred onto two patrol boats and taken to Malta.
The others were from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
Malta said they were rescued around 75 nautical miles southwest of the Mediterranean island state.
Italy this week launched a stepped-up navy patrol operation in the Mediterranean to scare off people smugglers and put pressure on Europe for further assistance amid a growing influx of refugees.
More than 400 asylum seekers have drowned this month in two tragedies in the Mediterranean.
The Italian coast guard meanwhile released video footage of the arrival in Sicily on Wednesday of a Liberian-flagged cargo ship that rescued 93 African migrants — the latest in over 32,000 who have arrived on Italy and Malta so far this year.