Three bodies were recovered and 302 people rescued on Friday from a sinking migrant boat carrying a “significant number” of people in the Mediterranean Sea south of Crete, Greek authorities said.
The coast guard said the roughly 25 meter vessel, which resembled a large fishing boat, had been carrying an undetermined number of people when it was located on Friday half-sunk about 75 nautical miles south of Crete in international waters, and within Egypt’s search and rescue area of operation.
Greece was sending two patrol vessels, a military airplane and three helicopters, while five passing ships were participating in the rescue operation and one more was on its way. The coast guard said the operation was continuing to locate any potentially missing passengers from the migrant boat.
It was not immediately clear where the boat’s passengers were from, or where the vessel had set off from or was heading to.
The short crossing from the Turkish coast to Greek islands was the preferred route for migrants heading to Europe until Balkan countries closed their borders and the European Union reached an agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of people.
Under that deal, those arriving on Greek islands from March 20 onwards face deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece, a financially troubled country few migrants or refugees want to stay in.
The deal has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of people arriving on Greek islands from Turkey. The coast guard said it and European border patrol agency Frontex had rescued 164 people in four separate incidents Thursday off the islands of Lesbos and Chios. Before the EU-Turkey deal, thousands would arrive each day.
However, the deal has led refugees and migrants to seek alternative routes, with many attempting the much longer and more dangerous crossing from north Africa towards Italy. Hundreds have died in the past few weeks when overcrowded boats attempting the crossing sank.