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NGO migrant rescue ship hunts for port amid coronavirus lockdown

The only NGO running migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean amid the coronavirus pandemic was striving to find a safe port on Tuesday after it saved 150 people off the Libyan coast.

The vessel pulled 68 people from the Mediterranean on Monday morning before picking up dozens more later, German NGO Sea Eye said in a statement.

Sea Eye – the only NGO running rescue operations since the coronavirus pandemic intensified last month – said it had received a message from Germany’s interior ministry on Monday asking it “not to begin any voyages and recall ships already at sea”.

Meanwhile, Italy and Malta “made clear to the [German] foreign ministry that they would not agree to rescued people disembarking” even if there was an agreement to share them out among European Union member states.

The NGO nevertheless appealed to Berlin to help it organise transport for the 150 migrants to Germany.

Underlining the risks it took to save the migrants, Sea Eye said crew of a boat flying the Libyan flag had fired shots in the air during the rescue.

“I was very worried about my crew and the refugees when I heard the shots from the Libyans,” said Stefan Schuetz of Sea Eye.

While the ship – named Alan Kurdi after a three-year-old Syrian boy whose death made global headlines in 2015 – was able to finish the rescue, it received a call about another migrant boat in distress around the same time.

An Italian ship arrived at the scene sooner but did not take anyone aboard, Sea Eye said.

“The Alan Kurdi evacuated the second boat and is now looking for a safe harbour with a total of 150 rescued people aboard,” said the group, adding that children and a pregnant woman were among those saved.

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