May 25th, 2007 05:11 EST
Italy's efforts to find missing boat off the coast of Malta
The United Nations refugee agency today hailed efforts by Italy to locate a boat carrying scores of people, including possibly some asylum-seekers, which recently went missing off the coast of Malta.
“We appreciate that the Italian Coast Guard and Navy have stepped up their effort to locate a boat crammed with more than 50 people,” said Jennifer Pagonis, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The Italian Navy has committed an Atlantic aircraft to the search, as well as seven Coast Guard patrol boats which left the southerly island of Lampedusa and southern Sicily on Thursday, according to UNHCR.
“The search-and-rescue operation highlights the Italian maritime authorities' commitment to saving lives at sea,” Ms. Pagonis said.
On Wednesday, UNHCR urged governments in the region to increase their search for the boat after the Maltese authorities, who originally spotted the boat during an aircraft patrol, lost contact with the vessel.
“Migrants have survived aboard boats adrift in the Mediterranean for over two weeks, and we appeal for the search and rescue efforts to continue,” Ms. Pagonis said.