Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini who has tried to close Italian ports to migrant rescue vessels swiftly tweeted that Mediterranea's 18-metre (59-foot) sailboat Alex should take those rescued to Tunisia
A sailboat belonging to Italian charity Mediterranea has rescued 54 people including pregnant women and children in distress off the Libyan coast, the charity said on Thursday.
"All 54 survivors have been rescued and are now aboard," Mediterranea, which is made up of left-wing activists, tweeted.
"Among them 11 women (three pregnant) and 4 children.... Happy to have rescued 54 lives from the hell of Libya. Now we need a safe port."
Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini who has tried to close Italian ports to migrant rescue vessels swiftly tweeted that Mediterranea's 18-metre (59-foot) sailboat Alex should take those rescued to Tunisia.
"Otherwise we will activate all procedures to prevent Italy being a port of arrival for human traffickers," Salvini said.
He added the rescue boat was "dozens of nautical miles closer to Tunisia than Lampedusa," the southern Italian island where Italian authorities last week seized a vessel belonging to German aid group Sea-Watch and arrested its captain for unauthorised entry to port.
"If this NGO really is concerned by the security of the migrants then let it head for the nearest port otherwise they should know that we shall activate all procedures to avoid having trafficking in human beings reaching Italy," said Salvini.
Mediterranea said earlier that the Alex was heading for a rubber boat in distress in Libya's search and rescue area.
Italian authorities informed them that the area was the responsibility of the Libyan coast guard which was sending vessels, Mediterranea said.
"But people must be rescued, not captured and deported back to Libya."
"Libyan patrol boat arrived late, they first asked us to stop, then left the scene," the collective tweeted.
An Italian jouirnalist aboard the Alex quoted one migrant as saying "better ten years here than one second in Libya."
Another makeshift vessel carrying 86 people across the Mediterranean from Libya sank off the Tunisian coast on Wednesday, with all but three of them believed drowned.
Tunisian authorities recently blocked entry to several commercial vessels that had picked up migrants and allowed only very few to disembark on condition they returned to their country of origin without a chance of applying for asylum.
The Italian judge in last week's Sea-Watch case ruled that neither Libya nor Tunisia were safe countries for the migrants.
Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, desperate to reach Europe.
On Tuesday night, 44 migrants were killed in an air strike on their detention centre in a Tripoli suburb.
The UN's special envoy on migration in the Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, has accused the EU of "blindness" on the plight of those stuck in Libya and urged a policy rethink.