ABOARD THE OCEAN VIKING, Sept 09 (AP): A charity ship run by humanitarian groups in the Mediterranean spent a rainy Sunday searching open waters for a fragile rubber boat overloaded with migrants before finally plucking 50 people to safety not far off Libya's coast.
The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, which is operated jointly by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, sent its own boats to pick up a pregnant woman close to full term, 12 minors and 37 men, all from sub-Saharan Africa.
"God bless you!" one of the men told the rescuers as they passed life vests to the wet and barefoot passengers.
At least two people feeling ill collapsed upon arrival on the Ocean Viking, while three others were soaked in fuel and two were suffering from mild hypothermia. The operation was witnessed by an Associated Press journalist aboard the ship, which found the migrant boat some 14 nautical miles (16 statute miles) from Libya.
The rescue occurred 14 hours after the Ocean Viking as well as Libyan, Italian and Maltese authorities, the United Nations' refugee agency and Moonbird, a humanitarian observation plane, received an email by Alarm Phone, a hotline for migrants. It was an urgent call seeking help for the rubber boat carrying 50 people without a working engine.
The Ocean Viking, which was already in the Libyan search and rescue zone of the central Mediterranean, informed all authorities that it was beginning an active search for the migrant boat.
Throughout the morning, the charity ship chased several objects spotted on the horizon, including what turned out to be a floating palm leaf tangled with fishing gear and an empty small fishing boat.
Throughout the morning, the ship tried to contact Libyan officials without success. The AP journalist witnessed at least three phone calls to the Libyan Joint Rescue and Coordination Center that went unanswered.
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