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Two boats carrying hundreds of people are in distress in the Mediterranean, rescue group says

Two boats carrying around 1,000 people on board are reportedly in distress in the Mediterranean sea, but Italian and Maltese authorities have not responded to calls for help, according to rescue groups.

The boats are taking on water, said Maurice Striel, founder of Alarm Phone – an NGO which takes calls from migrant boats in distress and alerts authorities and rescue ship operators.

He said each vessel is carrying approximately 500 people and that his group first alerted Italian and Maltese authorities to their plight yesterday.

“The people report that they fled from Libya several days ago & that their engine has stopped. Authorities are informed – rescue efforts are needed urgently & without delay,” Alarm Phone tweeted.

Neither Malta nor Italian maritime control centers have responded to multiple requests for information by CNN through Wednesday.

Multiple human rights organizations have been racing to track the boats.

“The situation on board one of the boats seems dire, with reports of the boat taking on water and a woman having given birth,” Doctors Without Borders tweeted of the boats Wednesday.

The NGO Emergency, which runs the rescue vessel Life Support, said it is heading to the area despite not being dispatched by either Italian or Maltese authorities.

“The situation seems very critical, we are trying to contact #MRCCMalta #coastguard without success,” they tweeted late Tuesday.

The group warned that “it may be too late” by the time Life Support reaches the troubled boats.

Every year, tens of thousands of migrants fleeing war, persecution and poverty risk the treacherous route in search of better economic prospects. They travel in dinghies that are unfit for the journey and can be left stranded, sparking major diplomatic rows between European countries in the region.

There has been an uptick in migrant arrivals by sea to Italy. Italian interior ministry figures show that 46,656 people arrived in the country by boat this year as of May 24, 2023.

In the same period last year, 17,972 people had arrived by boat.

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