A rescue operation is underway on the coast of the southern Greek island of Crete after a boat, which is believed to have carried hundreds of asylum seekers, lost control and drifted in rough seas, according to Greek authorities.
The coast guard said on Tuesday that the boat’s passengers had made an emergency call to an emergency number during the night to alert authorities.
According to the passengers, there were up to 500 people aboard the ship, the coast guard said, but added that the figure could not be immediately confirmed.
“According to an emergency call, there are 400-500 people on board,” a coast guard spokeswoman told AFP, adding that the operation was hampered by almost stormy winds.
“You can see the boat, it’s floating, there’s a huge number of people on board,” she added.
A Greek Navy frigate, two Italian fishing vessels, a tanker and two cargo ships took part in the rescue operation, but due to the strong winds and rough seas, it had not been possible to transport any of the passengers from the affected ship until morning, the coast guard said.
It was not immediately known from where the boat with the asylum seekers had sailed to sea, what destination it had or what nationality the people on board were.
Fleeing conflict, poverty
Every year, tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa try to reach the European Union via dangerous sea trips. Most try to reach Greece from neighboring Turkey or take a longer route to Italy.
result of increased patrols by the Greek Coast Guard and the EU border agency Frontex in the Aegean Sea, people smugglers are increasingly using the longer and more dangerous route south of Crete, Greek officials say.
“Eighty percent of inflows from Turkey go directly to Italy,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV last week.
Last month, one of the sailboats, which are believed to have been on board, sank on the island of Kythira south of the Peloponnese peninsula.
The boat went down under a huge vertical cliff. At least eight people died and survivors — mainly from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan — were brought to safety with ropes and a construction crane in a frantic operation before dawn.
Greece, Italy and Spain are among the destinations chosen by people fleeing Africa and the Middle East in search of safety and a better life in the EU.
According to its own statements, the Greek Coast Guard rescued around 1,500 people in the first eight months of the year, compared to less than 600 in the previous year.
The International Organization for Migration has killed and missed nearly 2,000 people in the Mediterranean this year.