5 migrants evacuated, 257 onboard Mediterranean rescue ship

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Refugees and migrants are rescued by members of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, after leaving Libya trying to reach European soil aboard an overcrowded rubber boat in the Mediterranean sea, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. The Open Arms rescue ship had been searching for the boat in distress for hours before finally finding it Wednesday morning in international waters north of Libya. The NGO had just finished distributing life vests and masks to the passengers to begin transferring them to safety when the flimsy boat split in half throwing them into cold waters. (AP Photo/Sergi Camara)

BARCELONA – Five rescued migrants in need of medical care have been airlifted from a Spanish humanitarian rescue ship sailing in the central Mediterranean Sea and brought to European soil along with the body of a 6-month-old boy, the Italian coast guard said Thursday.

Another 257 rescued migrants and five bodies remain on the Open Arms ship as it waits to be assigned a port for disembarkation.

Of the five evacuated, a mother, her child and a man, all in serious condition, were brought to a hospital in Malta, the Italian coast guard said. The other two women, one who is seven months pregnant, and the baby's body were taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

In total, 263 migrants who had fled Libya hoping to reach Europe on unseaworthy boats were rescued by Open Arms between Tuesday and Wednesday from three different shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

The nongovernmental organization also recovered the bodies of five people after one of the boats in distress fell apart, sending 116 people overboard including two infants. In footage released of the dramatic Wednesday rescue, a desperate mother can be heard shouting and asking rescuers “Did you see my baby? ... I lose my baby! Why me? Why my baby?"

Despite efforts by medics, a 6-month-old boy from Guinea named Joseph, passed away shortly after being rescued Open Arms said, bringing the number of dead to six. The group had initially reported erroneously that the dead baby was a girl.

Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told The Associated Press that the rescue ship was headed towards Italian territorial waters and was waiting to be assigned a place of safety to disembark the other rescued people.

So far this year, more than 575 migrants and asylum-seekers have perished in the Central Mediterranean trying to reach Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.