Israeli Sailors Save 11 Syrian and Iraqi Refugees Whose Boat Capsized

'They were floating in the water for about 12 hours when we saw them,' Israeli captain says; refugees were trying to reach Greek islands from Turkey when their boat capsized.

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A leisurely cruise turned into a rescue operation in the open sea on Sunday, when an Israeli sail boat saved 11 Syrian and Iraqi refugees whose boat capsized off the Greek coast.

The Israelis, members of the Poseidon Sailing Club in Ashdod who set sail last Tuesday for a cruise of the Greek islands, were sailing peacefully when they heard cries for help around 7:30 A.M. on Sunday. Spotting a 15-year-old boy wearing a life vest floating at sea, the crew quickly pulled him out of the water.

"We didn't even manage to question him when we saw the group in the water, crying for help," the boat's captain, Shlomo Asban, told Haaretz. Their boat, no more than a small tub, was under the refugees' feet. "Of course, we approached them and picked them up one by one," Asben said.

In the dramatic rescue, first reported by Ynet, the Israeli crew managed to pull 10 more refugees out of the water, including a mother who was clutching to the body of her 6-month-old baby. Three other bodies remained at sea. "We marked the location of the bodies and sent the local coast guard to handle it. We were more concerned with treating the survivors," Asben said.

Questioning the survivors in broken Arabic, Asben managed to glean the details of their ordeal. The refugees, a mixed group from Syria and Iraq, were sailing from the Turkish coast to the Greek island of Kastellorizo when their boat capsized Saturday evening.

"They were floating in the water for about 12 hours when we saw them," Asben said. "The 6-month-old baby couldn't make it. He probably died of hypothermia."

The Israeli boat sailed for about an hour before reaching Kastellorizo, where the refugees were taken by local authorities.