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Spanish ship returns home after dramatic migrant rescue

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Proactiva accuses Libyan coastguards of having saved the rest of the migrants on board the dinghy but not the two women and the child

Two vessels of a Spanish NGO involved in rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean arrived in the Spanish port of Palma on Saturday carrying a woman found drifting on a deflated dinghy off Libya as well as the bodies of a boy and another woman.

The two ships of Proactiva Open Arms were escorted to the port of the capital of the Balearic island of Majorca by a Spanish police ship at 7:15 am.

The rescued woman is a 40-year-old from Cameroon named Josepha. Proactiva said it transported her to Spain -- where the Spanish Red Cross received her -- for her "protection" and to enable her to testify freely.

Italy had earlier offered to take in the woman but not the bodies, telling the Spaniards that the Libyan coastguard was in charge of the rescue operation.

Proactiva accuses Libyan coastguards of having saved the rest of the migrants on board the dinghy but not the two women and the child, whom they say refused to board the rescue vessel and go back to Libya.

The NGO alleges that as a result, the coastguards left them and deflated the dinghy. Rescuers let air out of migrants' boats to stop them from being re-used and this boat had been slashed with a knife.

Proactive Open Arms's director Oscar Camps, who said Josepha remained in a state of shock, said he and the NGO were appalled at the logistical difficulties facing rescuers.

- 'We are indignant' -

"We are indignant, we once again condemn the policies being followed in the central Mediterranean, not just by one government but by several. The difficulties we have faced to save one life are just incredible," Camps told a news conference.

His organisation has accused the skipper of the Triades, the Panamanian-registered vessel which discovered the migrants at sea and alerted the Libyan coastguard of failing to come to their aid.

Camps added they were also seeking to have legal action brought against the skipper of the Libyan coastguard patrol boat and against the Italian coastguard "who will have something to say on what happened 80 to 90 miles off their coast -- practically the same distance as from Libya."

Libyan coastguards had earlier denied Proactiva's accusations and said they rescued 165 migrants from a boat in the same area on Monday night, without leaving anyone on board.

They also blamed a lack of resources, particularly for night operations.

Erasmo Palazzotto, a lawmaker from the leftist opposition Free and Equal party, meanwhile laid much of the blame at the feet of the Italian government.

"The Italian government, with the silence complicity of Europe, is financing militia, traffickers and criminal groups which have organised themselves to form what they call the Libyan coastguard.

"Today, no authority controls anything whatsoever in Libya," Palazzotto said.

At the Proactiva press conference, NBA star Marc Gasol, who took part in the rescue operation, also urged a better response.

"Everybody is urging a response in order to know what happened," Gasol said.

But Rome rejected the accusations.

"I'm sorry, but Open Arms is targeting the wrong people," said Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is in charge of Italy's coastguards.

"In the Mediterranean, Italy is an example of humanity and the efficiency of its rescue services... We're not interested in polemics. We're interested in working together to avoid deaths at sea," the minister said.

In mid-March, a boat belonging to Open Arms was seized and held for a month in Sicily on accusations of aiding illegal immigration.

On Saturday, the captain of one of the boats, Marc Reig, said his vessel would set off again for Libya, possibly "as soon as Sunday", to resume rescue operations.