A small cargo ship with about 400 migrants on board that suffered engine problems in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off the island of Crete is being led to a safe anchorage in Greece, the Greek coast guard said Friday.
A coast guard statement said the Turkish-flagged freighter was located by a Greek search and rescue vessel east of Crete. Greek authorities had earlier been informed that the cargo ship was crippled and in need of assistance.
There was no immediate indication that anybody on board was in ill health. The nationalities of the passengers and crew were unknown.
“Right now, the important thing is to get the ship to a safe anchorage,” an official with knowledge of the operation told The Associated Press. The official spoke on customary condition of anonymity.
The coast guard statement said the ship had set off from Turkey. Its original destination was not clear, but it would likely have been heading for Italy where smuggling rings frequently send migrants by sea. Usually they use yachts, and a large vessel capable of carrying several hundred people would mark a shift in tactics by smugglers.
The coast guard said that because of the number of people on the ship it was “one of the biggest search and rescue operations carried out in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece has toughened border policing and maritime patrols over the past 18 months, leading to a rise in traffic of migrant boats leaving the Turkish coast and heading directly to Italy. [AP]