First Migrant Charity Ship Reaches Italy Since Covid-19 Lockdown Began in April

An Italian collective brought dozens of migrants to safety Saturday in the country's first such arrival by a charity rescue ship since the coronavirus pandemic eased.

The arrival of the Mare Ionio ship in Pozzallo, Sicily, on World Refugee Day, was hailed by human rights organisations who noted the unusual speed with which Italy assigned the Mediterranea charity group a port.

"For once, the international law obliging the offer of a safe port, in a short time, has been respected," the group's head Alessandra Sciurba said in a statement.

The Mare Ionio rescued 67 people Friday after their boat ran into difficulty some 40 nautical miles (70km) off Lampedusa. The group said the migrants had been without water for two days.

"For the first time for years, a 'place of safety' has been assigned in less than 24 hours. It should be automatic," Italian journalist and migrant specialist Nello Scavo tweeted.

Mediterranea called for a port of safety to be extended also to the crew and migrants aboard the German Sea Watch 3 vessel, which took onboard around 100 people off the coast of Libya earlier this week.

The Pozzallo arrival was the first by a charity vessel since April, when Rome said it was closing its ports owing to the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted a nationwide lockdown in March, IOM said.

The Italian group said it was patrolling the central Mediterranean because European governments were failing to fulfil their responsibility "to safeguard human lives".

The International Organization for Migration's spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo said at least 227 people had died while attempting the perilous crossing since the start of the year.

"It remains dangerous, with two shipwrecks last week and one today," he told AFP.

The last few days in particular in the central Mediterranean "have been some of the most frantic this year", Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Twitter.

"At least 800 people tried to escape (from) Libya," MSF Sea said.