‘Alan Kurdi’ rescue ship picks up another 44 migrants

Migrants from the German rescue ship ‘Alan Kurdi’ arrive on an Armed Forces of Malta vessel at its base in Marsamxett Harbor, Valletta, last week. (Reuters)
Updated 09 July 2019
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‘Alan Kurdi’ rescue ship picks up another 44 migrants

  • Malta’s coast guard confirmed that it would transfer the migrants to one of its vessels in international waters
  • The ‘Alan Kurdi’ last week rescued 65 shipwrecked migrants attempting the perilous journey from North Africa

VALLETTA: The migrant rescue boat ‘Alan Kurdi’ has saved another 44 people, including women and infants from their stricken vessel in the Mediterranean, its operator German charity Sea-Eye said on Tuesday.
Malta has agreed to take in those rescued and is sending a vessel to pick them up, the charity said in a statement.
Malta’s coast guard confirmed that it would transfer the migrants to one of its vessels in international waters. Malta’s government did not say whether a deal had been reached for the migrants’ final destination.
The ‘Alan Kurdi’ last week rescued 65 shipwrecked migrants attempting the perilous journey from North Africa, handing them over to Malta after hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini closed Italy’s ports to the vessel.
Sea-Eye said it was alerted to the plight of the latest migrants off the Libyan coast by Tunisian fishermen and a civilian search plane.
The rescued migrants said they had left Zuwara in Libya early Saturday.
Their wooden boat was in Malta’s search and rescue area so Maltese authorities asked a nearby freighter to coordinate the rescue, which told Sea-Eye to take the migrants on board.
“Forty-four people, including four women and three children,” were brought aboard the ‘Alan Kurdi’, Sea-Eye said.
The children are 15 months, three and five years old. The people come from Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Guinea, it said.
“A 15-month-old baby should never have to be in such a life-threatening situation,” said Sea-Eye spokeswoman Carlotta Weibl.
The 65 migrants the Alan Kurdi handed over to Maltese authorities on Sunday have already been sent on to other European Union countries.
An Italian customs vessel on Tuesday separately brought 47 rescued migrants into Sicily’s Pozzallo port, Italian media reported.
The migrants had been headed to Lampedusa, an Italian island between Sicily and Libya, but there was no space for them there as hundreds of migrants continue to arrive by their own means or are rescued by authorities.
Salvini has vowed to close Italian ports to charity rescue ships, which he accuses of helping people smugglers.
Interior ministry figures showed that 395 migrants have arrived in Italy since the end of June.
Italian media reported that this year barely one in 10 migrants and asylum seekers has been brought into Italy by charity vessels — the vast majority arrived by other means.
Salvini on Monday said he wanted to deploy military vessels to stop migrant vessels arriving.
Half of the migrants landed in Pozzallo are Tunisian, Italian media reported. Salvini has written to the Tunisian authorities urging a new bilateral deal on handling migrants, including using ferries to repatriate them.
Italy and Malta have repeatedly criticized Europe’s “case-by-case” approach to migrant rescues, which means shipwreck victims spend days or weeks at sea while countries try to agree where they should go.
The Alan Kurdi, which had been banned from entering Maltese and Italian waters, is the third rescue vessel in a week to make headlines.
Some 41 people were finally allowed to step off migrant rescue charity Mediterranea’s Italian-flagged Alex, which arrived at the port on Saturday in an overnight operation that saw the ship seized by authorities.
The boat’s captain Tommaso Stella is being investigated for allegedly aiding illegal immigration.
Salvini last month issued a decree that would impose fines of up to 50,000 euros ($57,000) for the captain, owner and operator of a vessel “entering Italian territorial waters without authorization.”
Authorities on Lampedusa in late June seized a rescue ship belonging to German aid group Sea-Watch, which had forced its way into port with dozens of rescued migrants on board, and arrested its captain, Carola Rackete.
An Italian judge subsequently ordered her freed, saying she had been acting to save lives, a decision which sparked Salvini’s ire but may have encouraged the Alex crew.
Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, desperate to reach Europe.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.