The amphibious assault ship USS Bataan rescued 282 people in the Mediterranean Sea on Friday and transferred them to Malta’s military the next day, Navy officials said. Five of those rescued had to be medically evacuated.
The Bataan and the frigate USS Elrod responded to a report from an Italian military marine patrol aircraft that sighted six small vessels, one of which was sinking. Bataan dispatched two search-and-rescue MH-60S Seahawk helicopters, which confirmed the report, a Navy release said. Search-and-rescue swimmers pulled people from the water and transported them to the Bataan, where Navy officials said they were provided food, water and medical treatment.
The Times of Malta reported that the people were migrants. There have been repeated instances of people fleeing from conflict-ridden African nations such as Somalia, Nigeria and others attempting to make their way to Europe in often unseaworthy and overcrowded boats.
Such crossings are rising, according to the U.N. refugee agency, which estimated 6,000 people were rescued by the Italian navy from more than 40 overcrowded boats off Sicily and Calabria in a period of four days in April — a large number of them women, children and newborns.
The Bataan was supposed to have been participating in a large-scale multilateral exercise in Jordan, but was ordered into the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast on May 28 in response to increased unrest there, a move that positioned the Bataan nearby in case Americans need to be evacuated from Libya.