Migrants rescued off Malta coast
Satellite telephone used to alert rescue services in Rome, Maltese armed forces say.
Last Modified: 30 Dec 2008 14:57 GMT

Malta has seen a record influx of migrants this year [AFP]

About 140 illegal migrants have been rescued after they used a satellite telephone to raise the alarm when their boat ran into trouble, a spokesman for Malta's armed forces has said.

The migrants, who were thought to be on their way to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, included 10 pregnant women.

The boat was found about 120km south of Malta after the migrants telephoned Italian rescue services in Rome, who then alerted the Maltese authorities.

The migrants, who are believed to have originally come from Somalia and Ghana, are thought to have set off from Libya which has become a key embarking point for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

The island has seen a record influx of migrants this year, despite a strict detention policy which sees most migrants detained for 18 months.

"We have not had arrivals of illegal immigrants in December for years", a Maltese army spokesman said.

Over the weekend, almost 2,000 migrants from north Africa arrived on Lampedusa, a figure that prompted Italy's interior minister to publicly complain to Libya.

Last year, Libya agreed with Italy to set up joint patrols to curb the number of immigrants crossing by sea to Italy.

A subsequent pact between the two countries in August reiterated this goal, but Italy's parliament has yet to approve the accord.

Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister and Ignazio La Russa, the country's defence minister, acknowledged part of the blame for failing to tackle the problem fell on Rome.

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