ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A dilapidated fishing boat crammed with hundreds of migrants that lost its steering and had been drifting in the Mediterranean Sea south of the Greek island of Crete has been successfully towed to port, Greek authorities said Tuesday.
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi tweeted that the coast guard had rescued approximately 500 people, and that he would be asking that the European Commission relocate the migrants to other EU nations in solidarity with Greece.
Greece will provide immediate relief for the rescued passengers, he said.
The coast guard launched a major rescue operation overnight after receiving a distress call from the boat. A Greek navy frigate, a tanker, two cargo ships and two Italian fishing vessels participated but were unable to transfer passengers from the vessel due to the bad weather.
Shipping Minister Giannis Plakiotakis, who is in charge of the coast guard, described the rescue effort as the largest in the Mediterranean in recent years. He congratulated the coast guard for successfully carrying out the operation despite tough weather conditions.
“I assure that Greece will continue to effectively protect our maritime borders, which are also Europe's maritime borders, saving the lives of our fellow human beings and dismantling ruthless smugglers' networks,” he said.
The fishing boat was towed to the port of Palaiochora in southeastern Crete. There were no immediate reports of any injuries or missing people. It was not immediately known where the boat had set sail from or what was its intended destination.
Tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa try to make their way into the European Union each year via perilous sea journeys.
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