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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 April, 2004, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Migrants safe after sea rescue
A Tunisian cargo ship has rescued about 100 suspected illegal immigrants after their crowded boat ran into trouble in stormy seas in the Mediterranean.

They are said to be in good health and are being handed to Tunisian officials on arrival at the port of Sfax.

Aircraft and vessels from a number of states joined the search for the boat after one of those on board reportedly raised the alarm using a mobile phone.

The boat was spotted by coastguards off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

'Start of the season'

Officials said the 13-metre (40 ft) boat was first reported missing on Thursday after an Eritrean living in northern Italy claimed to have been contacted by somebody on board by mobile phone after the boat hit bad weather.

Although it was spotted soon afterwards off Lampedusa in high winds and three-metre (10 ft) waves, contact was lost and rescue efforts called off.

"It's improbable anyone has survived," Maltese army Captain Andrew Mallia told BBC News Online on Friday.

However, the Maltese authorities put out a message asking ships to keep a look out, and a Tunisian vessel headed for Sfax managed to take off the last of the group late on Friday.

The group of 100 or so includes 15 women and three children.

Two other small vessels carrying foreign nationals have been rescued off the coast of Malta in the past two weeks, Captain Mallia said.

"Going on the past two years, this is the start of the season," he said.

Tragedy strikes

Small boats are regularly used to ferry illegal immigrants from North Africa.

However the journey ends in tragedy for some, when flimsy and overcrowded boats capsize or sink.

In the latest such incident, Canary Islands police said at least 14 suspected immigrants drowned after two boats collided and capsized.

"There were two boats, one with 30 people one with 32. Two people are missing, including a baby," a Civil Guard spokesman told Reuters news agency.

The survivors swam ashore to Fuerteventura and were arrested.

ATIME, a Moroccan immigrant group, estimates that since 1997, about 4,000 people have died trying to reach the Canary Islands or to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to southern Spain.

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Migrant headache dogs Italy
01 Jul 03  |  Europe


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