Migrants stand on the deck of the Ocean Viking rescue ship, in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. A rescue ship with 422 migrants aboard, some of whom tested positive for COVID-19, is heading to Sicily. SOS Mediterranee, the humanitarian group which operates the rescue ship Ocean Viking, told The AP on Sunday that Italy granted the vessel permission to enter the port of Augusta. (Hippolyte/SOS Mediterranee via AP)

Boat with 422 migrants, some with COVID-19, heads to Sicily

ROME — A rescue ship with 422 migrants aboard, a small number of whom tested positive for COVID-19, was headed to a port in Sicily on Sunday.

SOS Mediterranee, the humanitarian group which operates the rescue ship Ocean Viking, told The Associated Press that Italy had granted the vessel permission to enter the port of Augusta, where it was expected to arrive Sunday evening, just as as rain and strong winds were forecast.

The migrants were rescued in separate operations in the central Mediterranean Sea on Thursday and Friday, including 121 who were crowded into a rubber dinghy. Some of the passengers fell into the sea during that rescue operation but were brought to safety, SOS Mediterranee said in a statement by Luisa Albera, search and rescue co-ordinator aboard the Ocean Viking.

In all, four distinct rescue operations were carried out over two days. Many of those rescued are women and children.

Originally, a total of 424 were rescued, but a pregnant woman and her companion were evacuated urgently by helicopter to Malta on Saturday, the statement said.

Eight of the rescued migrants have COVID-19, according to tests administered by the crew, and were being isolated on board despite the difficulties of crowded conditions on deck.

“But although strict COVID-19 mitigation protocols apply on board the Ocean Viking, this is a vessel of 69 metres (228 feet) in length,” Albera said. “This situation is a further reason for the remaining 422 survivors, who are in confined space on the aft deck, to be promptly disembarked in a place of safety,” she said.

Among the passengers are other pregnant women, babies and unaccompanied minors among the children.

During the pandemic, Italy has taken to transferring migrants from rescue ships anchored in port to other vessels where the passengers can protectively quarantine, although children are usually taken ashore to shelter.

Most of those who arrive in Italy thanks to sea rescues in recent years aren’t eligible for asylum, because they are deemed to be economic migrants who aren’t fleeing persecution or conflict.

The number of those reaching Italian shores after voyages aboard unseaworthy boats launched by traffickers, usually based in Libya or Tunisia, have dwindled compared to the hundreds of thousands who were rescued at sea a few years earlier.

But another drama of migrant suffering has been playing out on land in Europe. Many have suffered cold and hunger during the winter after they are sent back after crossing into Italy from Slovenia, which then sends them packing to Croatia, which then pushes them back into Bosnia, after their failed attempts to cross into the European Union.

Pope Francis on Sunday made an appeal for help for unaccompanied minors on the Balkans route, lamenting that they are “exposed to many perils.”

“In these days, the dramatic situation of those who find themselves on the so-called Balkan route has been brought to my attention,” Francis said. “But there are so many (unaccompanied minors) on all the routes.”

“Let’s work so that these fragile and defenceless creatures don’t lack dutiful care care and preferential humanitarian channels,” Francis said, without naming any countries.

Frances D’Emilio, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Jayden Grubbe is one of three Rebels on the NHL Central Scouting players to watch list for the 2021 NHL Draft. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels seek consistency ahead of matchup with Hitmen

The Red Deer Rebels had to deal with a pang of regret… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Health Tyler Shandro to announce investments to reduce surgery wait times. (File photo by BLACK PRESS)
More than 16K surgeries, procedures delayed in Alberta due to COVID-19

COVID-19 has delayed more than 16,000 surgeries and procedures in Alberta, as… Continue reading

Quinn Mason died from an opioid overdose at the age of 23 in June 2020. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta mother whose son died from overdose advocates for ‘change’

It’s been about nine months since her son died from an overdose,… Continue reading

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday that the province was ready to move forward with Phase 2A and B in the coming weeks. (Photo by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
Majority of Albertans to receive first shot before June 30: Shandro

Shandro says all Albertans should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine by June 30

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp gives instructions during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Phil Noble, Pool via AP)
Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen reacts to a goal by Winnipeg Jets' Paul Stastny, left, during first-period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Thursday, March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Pierre-Luc Dubois scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3

Pierre-Luc Dubois scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3

Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis (0) shoots after grabbing a rebound against Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Boston. At right is Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Tatum scores 27, Celtics outlast depleted Raptors 132-125

Tatum scores 27, Celtics outlast depleted Raptors 132-125

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel answers a question during a news conference addressing hockey issues at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The International Ice Hockey Federation has confirmed the postponement of the women's world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May 6-16. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP /Mark Humphrey
IIHF postpones women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May

IIHF postpones women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May

Quebec Premier François Legault chairs a virtual news conference Thursday, March 4, 2021 in Montreal. The premiers from the left are: John Horgan, B.C.; Jason Kenney, Alberta; Scott Moe, Saskatchewan; Legault, Quebec; Brian Pallister, Manitoba; Doug Ford, Ontario; and Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Most Read