A cruise liner returning from Greece was pressed into action in rough seas off Cyprus Thursday to rescue some 300 people thought to be Syrian refugees whose trawler had run into trouble.
The refugees, mostly women and children, were loaded aboard the Salamis Filoxenia cruise liner and were in “good health,” according to George Ppouro, the harbour master in the Cypriot port of Limassol.
The vessel was expected to dock at around 9:00 pm local time in Limassol, where the interior ministry said the migrants would be given health checks.
The liner had been en route from the Greek island of Syros to Limassol when it received a call to assist in the rescue operation.
The trawler sent out a distress signal at 6:25 am local time when it was about 50 nautical miles southwest of the tourist hub of Paphos, the Cypriot government said.
“On board the ship are about 300 people (mostly women and children) that require recovery and rescue because of bad weather conditions in the area,” the defence ministry said after the operation was launched.
“The ship probably comes from Syria with civilian refugees,” a statement added.
Aerial photographs released by the ministry showed a large fishing trawler overloaded with people in heavy seas.
State radio said two police patrol boats had been dispatched and the cruise liner diverted after a warning that the boat was in danger of sinking.
The director of Limassol General Hospital, Chrysostomos Andronikou, said medical teams would be at the port to receive the migrants and to hospitalise any needing treatment.
The interior ministry said the migrants would be bused to the Pournara army camp in the small town of Kokkinotrimithia, about 10 kilometres (six miles) west of the capital Nicosia.
In August 2012, seven Syrians, including two children, drowned when the boat they were sailing to Cyprus to escape the conflict in their homeland sank off the island’s northern coast.
Cyprus is located about 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the shores of war-ravaged Syria.
The Mediterranean has been plagued by shipwrecks in recent months involving migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East.
In one of the deadliest wrecks on record, a ship carrying some 500 migrants — including Syrians, Palestinians and Egyptians — was deliberately sunk by traffickers off Malta earlier this month, leaving just 10 known survivors. [AFP]