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Greece: Migrant boat had left Libya with 483 people

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities say a derelict fishing boat full of migrants that was towed to port after losing its steering gear in rough seas south of Crete had a total of 483 people on board who had departed from Libya.

The Coast Guard said Thursday those on board were Syrians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Palestinians and Sudanese, including 336 men, 10 women, 128 boys and nine girls. They were all transferred on Wednesday afternoon to a ferry docked in southern Crete for temporary accommodation.

The passengers were crammed into a 25-meter fishing boat that had departed from Libya and was bound for Italy, the coast guard said. Passengers on board issued a distress call when the ship ran into trouble and lost steering while sailing in the Mediterranean off the southern Greek island of Crete in the early hours of Tuesday.

A major rescue operation was launched involving a Greek frigate, two Coast Guard ships, five nearby merchant vessels and two Italian-flagged fishing boats. The adverse weather conditions, with high winds and rough seas, prevented the passengers from being transferred to one of the other vessels, and the fishing boat was eventually towed by one of the Italian-flagged fishing vessels to a port in southeastern Crete.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi sent a letter to the European Commission on Tuesday afternoon with the request to move the passengers to other countries of the European Union. He stressed that Greece and other countries on the EU’s external borders, where many migrants arrive first in their attempt to reach wealthier European countries, “cannot be expected to take on an increasing burden that is disproportionate to their respective capacities”.

Every year, tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa try to enter the European Union via dangerous sea voyages. The vast majority go from the nearby Turkish coast to the eastern Greek islands in small inflatable dinghies or try to cross directly to Italy from North Africa and Turkey in larger ships.

“Europe must prove its ability to provide immediate and tangible solidarity” by relocating new arrivals to other EU countries faster and in greater numbers than hitherto, Mitarachi said in his letter to the European Commission.

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