A freighter with around 400 migrants on board is heading to a safe anchorage in Greece after suffering engine problems off the island of Crete, the Greek coast guard said on Friday.
The Turkish-flagged freighter was located by a Greek search and rescue vessel after authorities were told the vessel needed assistance, the coast guard statement said.
There was no immediate indication of the health or nationality of the passengers.
“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.
A photograph posted by the Coast Guard on their website showed dozens of people, apparently mostly men, standing in groups on the deck of a dented-looking small freighter with what appeared to be the name “Vatha” “painted on its arches.
The Coast Guard statement said the ship had left Turkey. His original destination was unclear, but he would likely have headed to Italy, where smuggling networks frequently send migrants by sea – especially after Greece stepped up border policing and maritime patrols. in the past 18 months.
Usually they use yachts, and a large vessel capable of carrying several hundred people would mark a change in smugglers’ tactics.
The coast guard said that due to the number of people on board the ship it was “one of the largest search and rescue operations carried out in the eastern Mediterranean”.
The last time a ship carrying several hundred migrants was located in Greece was in late 2014, when a freighter with nearly 600 people on board was towed by a Greek navy frigate to a Cretan port.