From file: Migrants look out of a fishing boat docked at the port of Palaiochora in southeastern Crete, Greece, after its arrival, on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022 | Photo: Stefanos Rapanis/Eurokinissi via AP
From file: Migrants look out of a fishing boat docked at the port of Palaiochora in southeastern Crete, Greece, after its arrival, on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022 | Photo: Stefanos Rapanis/Eurokinissi via AP

Seven Egyptian nations have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in smuggling nearly 500 migrants in a rusty boat. A dramatic rescue ensued after the vessel lost steering in heavy winds off Crete.

Greek authorities said they arrested seven Egyptians suspected of having crewed a rusty fishing boat crammed with nearly 500 migrants that lost steering during gale-force winds off Crete and prompted a major rescue operation last week.

The seven were arrested on suspicion of being involved in migrant smuggling, the coast guard said Friday (November 25). The announcement comes after a preliminary investigation identified them as allegedly having been members of the boat's crew.

The 25-meter (82-foot) vessel had carried 336 men, 10 women, 128 boys and nine girls from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan and the Palestinian territories.

The migrants each paid a smuggling ring $3,000-$4,000 (€3,140-4,190) to be transported from Libya to Italy, the coast guard said, citing the preliminary probe in which the European police agency Europol was also involved.

What happened to the passengers aboard?

Those on board the flimsy vessel had made an emergency call to authorities when it lost steering south of Crete early on Tuesday, November 22.

A Greek navy frigate, two cargo ships, a tanker and two Italian fishing boats were deployed to assist the boat that was adrift in winds of over 30 kilometers (19 miles) an hour, the coast guard said. An earlier attempt to rescue the migrants while the boat was still at sea had to be abandoned because of the weather conditions, it added. Rescuers then towed the boat to Crete.

A hundred children on board were allowed to disembark first for medical tests, news agency AFP reported, citing the coastguard.

Greece 'cannot be expected to shoulder an ever-increasing burden'

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi sent a letter to the European Commission on Tuesday requesting that the migrants be relocated to other EU nations.

He said Greece and other EU countries where many migrants first arrive as part of their effort to reach wealthier European countries "cannot be expected to shoulder an ever-increasing burden out of proportion to their respective capacities.''

Migrants mainly from the Middle East, Asia and Africa try to enter the EU via life-threatening sea journeys. The vast majority head to eastern Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in small inflatable dinghies, or attempt to cross directly to Italy from north Africa and Turkey in larger boats.

According to the International Organization for Migration nearly 2,000 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea this year.

The Greek coast guard has said it has rescued about 1,500 people in the first eight months of 2022, compared with less than 600 last year. Dozens more migrants have lost their lives at sea over the last month.

With AP, AFP

 

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