Spanish charity rescues 372 in central Mediterranean; 1 dead

The Spanish charity Open Arms has rescued 372 people seeking to cross the central Mediterranean to Europe in unseaworthy smugglers’ boats and recovered the corpse of a man who had been shot by smugglers, officials said Sunday.

The rescue ship Open Arms Uno remained at sea and is seeking a safe port for the rescued people, including some who need medical attention and many who are suffering from dehydration, said Laura Lanuza, an Open Arms spokeswoman. She said they have made at least two requests for a safe port in Malta.

In all, the ship performed three rescues in 24 hours. In the largest rescue, the Open Arms picked up 294 people, mostly Egyptians, from an overcrowded barge in waters south of Malta in an nighttime operation that spanned nearly five hours before dawn Sunday. Those rescued said they had been at sea for four days.

The packed boat had been spotted by volunteer pilots combing the Mediterranean for people in distress, and a photo showed its decks packed with people waving for help.

Before that, the Open Arms rescued 59 migrants from Syria, Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea, among them 10 minors, from an oil platform they had reached in international waters near Tunisia. Still in the flimsy smugglers’ boat was the wrapped body of a migrant who had been shot on shore by smugglers, Lanuza said.

“The smugglers forced the people to take the corpse with them. They spent a day or so at sea, and kept the corpse until they were saved,’’ Lanuza said.

On Saturday morning, the Open Arms rescued 19 people from a rubber dinghy in off Libya in international waters. They included 16 people from Syria.

An Associated Press photographer on board the Open Arms said during each rescue, desperate people flung themselves into the water, complicating the operation.

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