Greek authorities said Tuesday that a search and rescue operation was underway in rough waters off the island of Crete. They are reportedly looking for as many as 500 migrants.
The operation began in the early hours of Tuesday (November 22), after a distress call was sent, said the Greek coast guard.
Strong winds around the Greek island of Crete reached almost gale force, reported the news agency Reuters. At least two cargo ships, one navy frigate and a tanker were helping the coast guard in rescue attempts, added the news agency.
The boat was reportedly carrying between 400 and 500 migrants, said the Associated Press (AP) and was drifting off the south of the island, which is in the southern Mediterranean, when it got into trouble.
Several vessels helping in rescue operation
AP added that two Italian fishing vessels were also taking part in the rescue attempts, but on Tuesday morning, agencies reported that the rescue ships had not yet been able to transfer any of the migrants on board safe ships.
The Greek coast guard told AP that they didn’t know from where the boat had set off, nor its intended destination. Similarly, the nationalities of the migrants on board has not been reported.
However, after the number of patrols in the Aegean increased, Greece is seeing increasing numbers of attempts by smugglers to bypass the Turkey-Greece route and sail on west across the Mediterranean to Italy. On these voyages, the boats tend to be bigger and carry more passengers. But the journey is far more dangerous too.
More boats headed directly to Italy
Last week, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV that "80% of [migrant boats go] from Turkey straight to Italy."
Several have got into difficulty off southern Greece this year, resulting in complicated rescue operations and loss of life. In October, about 95 people on board a boat heading along that route found themselves in the water after their boat sank off the island of Kythira, south of the Peloponnese peninsula.
In that incident, at least eight people died. Most of the migrants on board that ship, came from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, reported Agence France Presse (AFP).
A spokesperson from the Greek coast guard told AFP that they believed the boat carrying the migrants to be a former fishing boat. She told AFP that the coast guard could "see the boat, it’s adrift, there’s a large number of people on board."
Missing and dead
According to figures provided by the Greek coast guard, their crews rescued about 1,500 migrants during the first eight months of 2022. The UN Migration Agency IOM’s Missing Migrants project has recorded nearly 2,000 migrant deaths in the waters of the Mediterranean this year to date, and a message on its website says it is currently working to update its figures, so it is likely that the numbers could increase still further by the end of the year.
In 2021, 2,062 migrants were recorded missing, believed dead, across the whole of the Mediterranean.
On Saturday, the Greek coast guard said they rescued about 94 people off the Peloponnese peninsula, according to the English language Greek newspaper Ekathimerini. On that day, the winds were blowing slightly less strongly than they are currently registered off Crete and all 94 people were brought safely ashore and taken to reception facilities in the Greek city of Kalamata.
With AP, Reuters, AFP