1,000 migrants saved
A Turkish-flagged vessel carrying an estimated 1,000 illegal migrants was towed by a ferry boat to the Ionian island of Zakynthos amid stormy weather yesterday. The crew earlier had lost control following a fire in the engine room. According to the Merchant Marine Ministry, the joint search and rescue command center located the 50-meter ship drifting 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of the island of Zakynthos, and two ferry boats with coast guard officers aboard were dispatched to the scene. Coast guard officials said that the vessel was successfully towed to the port of Zakynthos yesterday afternoon. Greek authorities have started the registration of the illegal immigrants. So far, 900 people have been documented, according to port authorities, Ketty Kehayioglou, public information officer of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Athens, told Kathimerini’s English Edition late yesterday. According to the UNHCR official, it will take a couple of days before authorities and the agency have a complete picture of the situation, stressing that information, such as the exact number of migrants and their countries of origin, remain vague. The ship was believed to be sailing from Izmir in Turkey to Italy. It is still unclear where the State will set up a reception center for these people, and we will not know until they register with police how many of them will apply for asylum, Kehayioglou said. The UNHCR in Athens is to dispatch a team of agency officials to Zakynthos today. Authorities believe that the strong winds blowing in the area on Sunday night – reaching as strong as 8 Beaufort – and the excessive number of people aboard the ship caused the engines to overheat and catch fire. So far this year, Greek Coast Guard officials have detained over 5,000 illegal immigrants, another 100 people suspected of human trafficking, and have confiscated as many as 83 vessels used in ferrying the illegal immigrants. An increasing number of refugees reaching Greek shores are Afghans fleeing a prolonged famine and war. According to the UNHCR, some 600 Afghan asylum-seekers have been received so far this year in Greece, while the records of the Public Order Ministry show that between last January and March there were 468 requests for asylum, of which 276 were examined and 37 granted. -Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Mount Athos.