Rescuers fight storm to save 250 migrants

Greek coast guard authorities were coordinating a dramatic international effort to rescue some 250 people aboard a small ship battling gale-force winds in the Libyan Sea southeast of Crete yesterday. Greek coast guard and navy helicopters began to hoist women and children to safety when the weather began to worsen, with winds reaching 9 and 10 on the Beaufort scale. Warships from Britain, Spain, the Netherlands and Greece sped to the scene and freighters were helping to shepherd the troubled ship toward the Cretan coast. The ship was found drifting on Tuesday afternoon after suffering engine failure and a woman aboard phoned authorities in Turkey saying that it was sinking. Officials believe most passengers are Iraqi Kurds who had paid to be taken from Turkey to Italy. By late last night, a coast guard Super Puma had lifted 16 women and two children from the ship, which was 30 nautical miles southeast of Ierapetra, on the southern coast of Crete, and deposited them on the Dutch navy auxiliary ship Amsterdam, the Merchant Marine Ministry announced. The navy general staff added that two of its Sikorsky helicopters had hoisted 17 children and three women from the ship and lowered them onto the Amsterdam. From there, a pregnant woman was flown to the hospital in Iraklion, on Crete’s northern coast, for treatment. A sailor from the Spanish frigate Extremadura was flown to Iraklion on the same flight for an injury suffered during the rescue effort. The navy said that it was dispatching the frigate Hydra to the scene. «The situation is dramatic,» Haris Damianakos, one of the helicopter pilots, told Mega Channel television. «The winds are getting stronger. They are 9 and 10 Beaufort.» He said his crew had carried 20 jerry cans of fuel to the ship to help keep it going. The ship had no name, was bearing no flag and no one had identified himself as the captain, Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis said. The ship also changed direction frequently, he added. Early yesterday, crew members from the British navy’s HMS Beagle had boarded the ship in distress and repaired one of its two engines, allowing it to steam slowly toward Crete. Local authorities in Ierapetra were preparing to provide shelter and food for the migrants. (Page 2)

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