USS San Antonio rescues 128 in Mediterranean
By HENDRICK SIMOES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 17, 2013
The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio helped rescue nearly 130 migrants from a raft that was being rocked by high waves off the coast of Malta, in an area where hundreds of migrants died when their boat capsized.
The ship was about 60 nautical miles away when the U.S. 6th Fleet headquarters in Naples, Italy, responding to a distress call from Maltese authorities, directed it to respond. A Maltese patrol aircraft had spotted the raft.
The San Antonio was recently in the news for holding Abu Anas al-Libi, who was captured in Libya during a U.S. special operations raid on Oct. 5. Interrogators reportedly questioned Al-Libi for about a week aboard the ship. He’s now in New York to stand trial on charges he helped plan and conduct surveillance for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.
The ship used two 11-man rigid hull inflatable boats to bring the stranded migrants, all men between the ages of 20 and 30, on board, according to a Navy news release. The crew provided food, water and medical attention. There were no deaths on the raft.
The Navy release said 128 men were rescued.
U.S. 6th Fleet confirmed on Thursday afternoon that all rescued persons were safely transferred to a Malta Offshore Patrol Vessel. “The US takes our obligation to render assistance to those in need very seriously,” said spokesman Lt. Shawn Eklund.
He said the rescue was “routine in nature” because sailors regularly train for these kinds of scenarios, but also cited it was joint effort with Maltese authorities.
Navy officials described the men as being in “pretty good health” and mostly dehydrated after spending five days at sea with no food or water.
Earlier this month, nearly 400 people died when their overcrowded boats sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, southwest of Malta.
In an interview with the BBC, Maltese Prime Minister Joshep Muscat appealed to the European Union to address the issue of migrants who travel by boat from Africa hoping to find asylum and work in Europe.
“As things stand, we are building a cemetery within our Mediterranean Sea,” Muscat told the BBC over the weekend.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 8,000 migrants and asylum-seekers landed on the coasts of Malta and Italy in the first six months of the year and there were some 15,000 last year. Most are from Somalia and Eritrea, according to the UNHCR.
The USS San Antonio, with a crew of about 360 sailors and carrying embarked Marines, is part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, which is headed home to Norfolk, Va., after a six-month deployment in the Middle East.