A cruise ship rescued 300 Syrian migrants who were crowded into a tiny fishing vessel in rough seas off the southern coast of Cyprus after coast guard officials picked up a distress signal, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.
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"All 300 migrants have been taken onboard the Salamis Filoxenia liner and are in good health. We expect it to arrive at the port of Limassol tonight," said the Limassol port master, Giorgos Pouros.
"Doctors and nurses will be ready to examine and treat the migrants when they arrive at the port," he said. The migrants will then be transferred to an army barracks near the capital Nicosia, officials said.
Cypriot authorities asked the Salamis Filoxenia liner to change course and help with the search-and-rescue operation, which was hampered because of strong winds.
The migrants, many of whom are women and children, had been left stranded in rough seas on board their tiny vessel, which had departed from Syria, the ministry said.
Two helicopters and two coast guard vessels had also been dispatched to the area, approximately 50 nautical miles (90 km) west of Cyprus.
Italy, Spain, Greece and Cyprus are major entry points to the European Union for migrants from Asia and Africa.
Earlier, photos taken from a Cypriot army helicopter showed dozens of people sitting on the main deck of what appeared to be a fishing trawler being battered by rough sea and strong winds. The condition of the boat's occupants was not immediately known. Cypriot authorities were making earlier Thursday arrangements to receive and provide medical treatment to the migrants, the defense ministry said.