Greece rescues cargo ship carrying 400 migrants and refugees

The Greek coast guard says the rescue operation was “one of the largest” ever carried out in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Greece has organized a rescue operation for a cargo ship carrying some 400 migrants and refugees after it sent a distress signal off the island of Crete, according to the country’s coast guard.

The Greek coast guard quoted the passengers as saying the Turkish-flagged ship had sailed from Turkey, calling Friday’s response “one of the largest search and rescue operations ever carried out in the eastern Mediterranean.”

Greek authorities, who had previously been informed that the ship was paralyzed and needed help, said they would bring it ashore, but did not give further details. The nationalities of the passengers were not immediately made public.

“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 news agency. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

A photograph published by the Greek coast guard on their website showed dozens of people, apparently mostly men, standing in groups on the deck of a small battered-looking freighter with what appeared to be the name “Vatha” painted on it. the bow.

Athens-Ankara tensions

Greece is one of the main routes to the European Union for migrants and refugees crossing from neighboring Turkey.

On Tuesday, four people drowned after a boat carrying them and 23 others sank off the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea after setting sail from Turkey.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said in the wake of the incident that the Turkish authorities needed to take stronger measures against smuggling operations and prevent such trips from taking place.

Athens has frequently blamed Ankara for failing to take sufficient measures to curb smugglers who send migrants and refugees in unsafe dinghies and boats from its shores.

In 2016, Turkey signed an agreement with the EU aimed at reducing the country’s migrant and refugee arrivals to Greece in exchange for some incentives, including financial assistance.

Since then, the number of crossings has drastically decreased, although it has not completely stopped, and deadly shipwrecks in the waters of Greece have become rare.

But Turkey, which is home to roughly four million refugees, has repeatedly called for a review of the 2016 accord, arguing that the EU has failed to deliver on the promises it made in the pact.

Almost a million people, mainly Syrian refugees, arrived in the EU in 2015 after crossing to the Greek islands near Turkey. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, many EU states fear a repeat of that crisis.

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