A rescue operation is underway to assist dozens of migrants on a sailboat reported in trouble off the southern coast of Greece, authorities said Friday, amid a rise in migration to the Mediterranean country.
Four civilian vessels were ordered to provide assistance while three coast guard boats and a naval ship were sent to the area, southwest of the Peloponnese region. A navy helicopter was helping coordinate the effort.
The coast guard said the migrants’ boat was not letting in water or otherwise in danger, as had been initially reported, and that the number of people on board was likely under 100.
The incident occurred near the site of a maritime tragedy in mid-June when hundreds of migrants died or went missing after a fishing trawler sank in international waters while traveling from Libya to Italy. Greece was heavily criticized for failing to safely evacuate the ship before it sank.
A Greek coast guard statement said the migrants told the crew of a merchant vessel that reached them first on Friday that two people on board required hospital treatment and that five others needed lesser healthcare. But when the first coast guard patrol boat reached the area, all 7 of those migrants refused to be taken off their vessel saying they were in good health, the statement said.
It said a bigger coast guard vessel was being sent “to take the migrants on board and safely transfer them to port” on the mainland.
It was unclear where the sailboat had sailed from.
International waters off southwestern Greece are on a route used by smugglers in recent years to carry migrants in overloaded sailboats from Turkey to Italy. Longer and more dangerous than the short crossing to Greece’s eastern Aegean Sea islands, it’s used in an attempt to bypass Greek coast guard patrols in the Aegean.
Also Friday, a second search operation was underway off the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes to look for potentially missing passengers after 22 migrants were rescued from a stranded sailboat.
Greece has seen a rise in migrant arrivals from Turkey, mostly by sea, in recent weeks amid more clement summer sailing conditions.