More than 150 African migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast on Friday night (December 15) in a joint operation by the Italian navy and a humanitarian rescue ship.
An Italian helicopter initially spotted the dinghy carrying a total of 166 people, including 42 children, travelling off the eastern Libyan coast. Italian Navy frigate Luigi Rizzo started initial rescue operations before handing over to the Aquarius rescue ship, run by humanitarian groups SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF).
The majority of those rescued were originally from Ivory Coast and Mali, along with others coming from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Liberia, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Togo.
Italy has led the European Union’s strategy to try to bolster the capability of local authorities and especially the Libyan coast guard so that they can shut down the central Mediterranean smuggling route, now the main one to Europe. More than 600,000 have made the perilous journey across the central Mediterranean in four years.
Overall there have been more than 100,000 arrivals in Italy this year, a decline of more than 20 percent compared to 2016, official data show.