In busy day for rescues at sea, migrants cheer when told "Libya is over"

Thu May 18, 2017 5:29pm GMT

* Some 2,300 migrants rescued from 22 boats

* Italy migrant arrivals up 35 pct this year

* Libyan coast guard intercepts 600

By Steve Scherer

ABOARD THE AQUARIUS RESCUE SHIP, May 18 (Reuters) - Rescues began at dawn on Thursday and by the end of the day some 2,300 migrants had been pulled off 22 wooden and rubber boats in the Mediterranean, with many rejoicing when rescuers told them that their long journey to Europe was almost over.

At one point, 10 migrant boats could be seen floating on the horizon just outside Libya's territorial waters, with the shoreline visible in the distance.

A surveillance aircraft circled above and Libyan coast guard speed boats set fire to migrant boats once their passengers had been recovered, to stop smugglers recovering and reusing them.

From the rescue ship Aquarius, operated by SOS Mediterranean and Doctors without Borders, two rigid-hulled inflatable boats were launched to collect the migrants from over-loaded rubber boats and bring them - 18 or 20 at a time - to the ship.

"In a few days you will be in Italy, in Europe. Libya is over," each group was told in English or French, often drawing applause and cheers of joy from those who were not too exhausted, seasick or traumatised from their journey.   Continued...

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