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Ocean Viking rescue ship picks up 246 people off Libya

Second ship, Open Arms, remains at sea on Sunday with 121 people on board after being denied permission to enter ports in Italy and Malta
Woman named Bintu, right, holding her child, stands with two other women aboard Ocean Viking after being rescued from Mediterranean Sea on Saturday (AFP)

The Ocean Viking rescue ship picked up 81 people from an unseaworthy rubber boat on Sunday, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

The young men, mostly Sudanese who had left Libya late Saturday in a blue rubber dinghy, clapped and cheered as the ship came into view, AFP said.

There are now 246 people on board after three rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast.

The Norwegian-flagged ship had already picked up 85 people on Friday and another 80 on Saturday during its first two rescue missions. The 69-metre (226-foot) cargo ship has 31 crew members and can comfortably hold about 200 people, according to Deutsche Welle.

The ship, jointly operated by French charity SOS Mediterranean and MSF, has been patrolling international waters about 50 nautical miles off the coast of Tripoli.

"We're the only ones in the area, the Libyan coastguard don't respond" to distressed migrant vessels, SOS Mediterranean search and rescue coordinator Nicholas Romaniuk told an AFP reporter on board the rescue ship.

Romaniuk said fair weather conditions would likely encourage more departures from Libya.

A second ship, the Open Arms, remained at sea on Sunday with 121 people on board after being denied permission to enter ports in Italy and Malta.

Italy's anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said he had signed orders banning both rescue ships from Italy.

"Italy is not a refugee camp for Europe. Go either to Spain or Norway," he told Italian media.

A new Italian law permits fines of as much as $1.1m against the owners of charity rescue ships that enter Italian waters without authorisation.