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Greece: Migrant boat left Libya with 483 people

Athens, Greece — Greek authorities say a dilapidated fishing boat crammed with migrants that was towed to port after losing its way in rough seas south of Crete was carrying a total of 483 people who had sailed in from Libya.

The Coast Guard said on Thursday those on board were Syrians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Palestinians and Sudanese and included 336 men, 10 women, 128 boys and nine girls. They were all transferred on Wednesday afternoon to a ferry docked in southern Crete for temporary accommodation.

The passengers had been crammed into a 25-metre (82ft) fishing boat which had left Libya and was heading for Italy, the coast guard said. Passengers on board made a distress call when the ship ran into trouble and lost direction while sailing in the Mediterranean off the island of Crete in southern Greece in the early hours of Tuesday .

A major rescue operation was mounted, involving a Greek frigate, two coast guard vessels, five nearby merchant ships and two Italian-flagged fishing boats. Adverse weather conditions, with strong winds and rough seas, prevented the passengers from being transferred to one of the other vessels, and the fishing vessel was eventually towed to a port in southeast Crete by one of the fishing vessels flying the Italian flag.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi sent a letter to the European Commission on Tuesday afternoon, asking that the passengers be transferred to other European Union countries. He stressed that Greece and other countries on the EU’s external borders where many migrants arrive for the first time in their efforts to reach wealthier European countries “cannot expect to shoulder a burden constantly growing and disproportionate to their respective capacities”.

Tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa try to enter the European Union every year by perilous sea journeys. The vast majority head for the eastern Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in small dinghies or attempt to cross directly to Italy from North Africa and Turkey in larger vessels.

“Europe must prove that it is able to provide immediate and tangible solidarity”, moving new arrivals to other EU countries faster and in greater numbers than it has been doing so far, Mitarachi said in his letter to the European Commission.


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