MADRID — Spanish officials say more than 300 people including newborns have been rescued from a wooden fishing boat off Libya’s coast and taken to an Italian port.
The Defense Ministry said water was flooding the boat when rescuers reached it Saturday northeast of the Libyan town of Misrata.
The ministry said a Spanish frigate working on a European border patrol mission and a vessel of the Spanish non-governmental organization Proactiva Open Arms transferred 329 people from the wooden boat.
The migrants were from various Sub-Saharan African countries and included 95 women, three of them pregnant, and 37 children — including six newborns, according to Javier Yrayzoz, a Second Lieutenant with Spain’s Santa Maria frigate.
Yrayzoz said rescuers worked against the clock to securely transfer the migrants from the fishing boat as its stowage, where many of the passengers crammed, filled up with water.
“We saw moments of heightened tension because the water leak forced us to operate at high speed while safety measures dictate us to operate cautiously,” the lieutenant told The Associated Press over the phone.
A doctor with the frigate said those rescued showed symptoms related to hypothermia and tiredness, but overall they were healthy.
The ministry said Monday the migrants were taken Sunday to Italy.
The International Organization for Migration says 4,742 migrants entered Europe by sea this year through Jan. 25, and that 206 others died en route.