Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia


A RHIB (rigid hulled inflatable boat) crew member from the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 distributes life jackets to migrants on an overcrowded wooden boat during a rescue operation in international waters off the coast of Tunisia, in the western Mediterranean Sea, August 1, 2021. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

ABOARD SEA-WATCH 3, Mediterranean - Two humanitarian rescue ships pulled 394 migrants from a dangerously overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean overnight on Sunday in an operation lasting about six hours, a Reuters witness said.

The German and French NGO ships Sea-Watch 3 and Ocean Viking rescued the migrants in Tunisian waters 68 km (42 miles) from the North African coast, near oil facilities and other ships.

Sea-Watch 3, which assumed command of the operation, took 141 of the survivors while Ocean Viking took the rest. The yacht Nadir, from the German NGO ResQ Ship, later gave support.

It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants who were in the wooden boat, which was crammed with migrants on deck and inside the hull.

The craft was taking in water and its engine was not working, the Reuters witness said.

Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved.

According to the U.N.-affiliated International Organization for Migration, more than 1,100 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have perished this year in the Mediterranean.

Many of the migrants in this latest rescue were seen jumping off the boat and trying to swim to Sea-Watch 3, the Reuters witness said.

The migrants were mainly men from Morocco, Bangladesh, Egypt and Syria. (This story refiles to correct spelling of reporter's surname at end of text)

(Reporting by Darrin Zammit Lupi, writing by Stephen Jewkes, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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