By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS, Associated Press
ATHENS, Greece (AP) – A small freighter carrying around 400 migrants who suffered engine problems in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off the Greek island of Crete will be towed to a safe anchorage in Greece, guards said on Friday. Greek coasts.
But late Friday night, no port had been designated for the ship and there were signs the incident could turn into a diplomatic standoff with neighboring Turkey, Greece’s regional rival from where the ship is located. left.
A Coast Guard statement said the Turkish-flagged freighter had been located by a Greek search and rescue vessel east of Crete, following an indication it needed assistance.
There was no indication that anyone on board was in poor health, although it is not known how long he was at sea and what his food and water situation was. The nationalities of the passengers and crew were unknown.
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“The important thing right now is to get the ship to a safe anchorage,” an official with knowledge of the operation told The Associated Press. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, later said the ship remained in eastern Crete.
The official said a formal request was to be made to Turkey to take back the ship and its passengers, who in the meantime had to be temporarily sheltered in a Greek port. He said he left Turkey and therefore, under a 2016 migrant agreement between Ankara and the European Union, Turkey is expected to take him back.
A photograph released by the Coast Guard showed dozens of people, mostly men, standing in groups on the deck of a small, battered-looking freighter.
The Coast Guard said the ship was heading for Italy. The use of a large ship capable of carrying several hundred people would mark a change in the tactics of the smugglers.
The last time a ship carrying several hundred migrants was located in Greece was in 2014, still off Crete. The 77-meter (250-foot) cargo ship Baris encountered problems in international waters with nearly 600 people on board and was towed by a Greek Navy frigate to the Cretan port of Ierapetra. The passengers, mostly Syrians, told officials they paid smugglers up to $ 6,000 each for passage from Turkey to Italy.
Crammed into light dinghies, nearly a million people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa crossed the Turkish coast to the Greek islands in 2015. The 2016 EU-Turkey deal was aimed at to prevent this from happening again.
Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration
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