(Rome) The Geo Barents, a humanitarian ship of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), rescued 440 migrants in distress on Tuesday on board a boat in international waters off Malta, the NGO announced.

“After more than 11 hours of operation, the rescue is now complete and a total of 440 people, including eight women and 30 children, are now safe on board.

While seeking shelter in the Mediterranean during a storm, the Geo Barents received a distress alert and changed course to provide assistance, the NGO said.

“Unfortunately, the weather conditions did not allow our team to carry out the rescue directly, which could have endangered the lives of people and that of the MSF team,” she said.

“This morning at 4 a.m., after more than 10 hours of sailing in rough seas, our team finally reached the boat in distress,” she added.

In February, the Italian authorities had immobilized the humanitarian ship of MSF, accused of having broken the new rules on the missions to rescue migrants.

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party, took over the helm of a coalition government in October after promising to reduce the number of migrants arriving in Italy.

A new law requires humanitarian ships to carry out only one rescue at a time, which critics say increases the risk of death in the central Mediterranean, which is considered the world’s most perilous crossing for migrants.

Italy’s geographical location makes it a destination of choice for asylum seekers crossing from North Africa to Europe. Rome has long complained about the number of arrivals in its territory.

According to the Interior Ministry, more than 14,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the start of the year, compared to just over 5,300 during the same period last year and 4,300 in 2021.

However, NGOs transport only a small percentage of migrants wishing to arrive in Europe, most being rescued by coast guard or navy vessels.

However, the government accuses the NGOs of stimulating the arrival of migrants through their action and encouraging traffickers.