A major rescue operation is underway off the coast of the Greek island of Crete for a drifting fishing boat carrying reportedly several hundred migrants. Some of them sent a distress call last night, the coastguard reports.
The call, just after midnight, said about 400 to 500 persons on board, but the coastguard cannot yet confirm the number. It is not yet known where the boat came from, what its destination was and what nationalities the people on board have. A Greek naval frigate, two Italian fishing vessels, a tanker and two freighters are taking part in the rescue operation, but strong winds and rough seas have prevented them from bringing the boat’s passengers to safety.
“They can see the boat. It is floating and there are a large number of people on board,” a Coast Guard spokeswoman told AFP news agency.
Due to reinforced patrols by the Greek Coast Guard and the EU border agency Frontex in the Aegean Sea, migrant smugglers are increasingly using the longer and more dangerous route south of Crete, Greek officials say. “Eighty percent of the refugee flows from Turkey go directly to Italy,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV last week.
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