Athens: A rescue operation was underway today for a “significant number” of migrants on board a semi-sunken boat in the Mediterranean south of Crete, Greek authorities said, with about 302 people rescued so far.
The coast guard said the roughly 25-30 meter (82-98 foot) vessel, which resembled a large fishing boat, had been carrying an undetermined number of people when it was located Friday half-sunk about 75 nautical miles south of Crete in international waters.
Greece was sending two patrol boats and two helicopters, while four ships that had been sailing nearby were participating in the rescue operation. It was not immediately clear where the boat’s passengers were from, or where the vessel had set off from or was heading to. The short crossing from the Turkish coast to Greek islands was the preferred route for migrants heading to Europe until Balkan countries closed their borders and the European Union reached an agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of people.
Under that deal, those arriving on Greek islands from March 20 onwards face deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece, a financially troubled country few migrants or refugees want to stay in. The deal has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of people arriving on Greek islands from Turkey. The coast guard said it and European border patrol agency Frontex had rescued 164 people in four separate incidents Thursday off the islands of Lesbos and Chios. Before the EU-Turkey deal, thousands would arrive each day.
However, the deal has led refugees and migrants to seek alternative routes, with many attempting the much longer and more dangerous crossing from North Africa towards Italy. Hundreds have died in the past few weeks when overcrowded boats attempting the crossing sank.