A boat believed to be carrying hundreds of asylum seekers is drifting off the island of Crete, Greek authorities say.
A rescue operation is underway off the coast of the southern Greek island of Crete after a boat believed to be carrying hundreds of asylum seekers lost control and drifted in rough seas, Greek authorities said.
The Coast Guard said on Tuesday that passengers on the boat had made an emergency call to an emergency number during the night to alert authorities.
According to passengers, there were up to 500 people on board the ship, the Coast Guard said, but added that the number could not be immediately confirmed.
“The 911 call said there were 400 to 500 people on board,” a Coast Guard spokeswoman told AFP, adding that the operation was hampered by near-gale force winds.
“You can see the boat, it’s drifting, there are a lot of people on board,” she added.
A Greek Navy frigate, two Italian fishing vessels, a tanker and two cargo ships were involved in the rescue operation, but due to strong winds and rough seas it had not been possible to transfer any of the passengers from the wrecked ship by morning. said the Coast Guard.
It was initially not known where the boat carrying the asylum seekers had set sail, what its destination was and what nationalities the people on board were.
Escape from conflict, poverty
Tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa each year attempt to enter the European Union via dangerous sea voyages, most attempting to reach Greece from neighboring Turkey or a longer route to Italy gain weight.
People smugglers are increasingly using the longer and more dangerous route south of Crete, Greek officials say, due to increased patrols in the Aegean by the Greek Coast Guard and the EU border protection agency Frontex.
“Eighty percent of the flows from Turkey go directly to Italy,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV last week.
Last month, one of the sailing boats with 95 people on board sank off the island of Kythera, south of the Peloponnese peninsula.
The boat went under a huge vertical cliff. At least eight people died and survivors – mostly from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan – were evacuated to safety using ropes and a construction crane in a frantic operation before dawn.
Greece, Italy and Spain are among the destinations chosen by people fleeing Africa and the Middle East in search of safety and a better life in the EU.
The Hellenic Coast Guard said it rescued about 1,500 people in the first eight months of the year, compared to fewer than 600 last year.
The International Organization for Migration has killed and missing nearly 2,000 people in the Mediterranean this year.