A rescue operation was underway Tuesday morning off the Greek island of Crete, after a boat with about 500 migrants on board sent an SOS signal, the coast guard of Greece announced, reports AFP.

Migrants in the Mediterranean PHOTO Archive

“We can see the boat. She floats adrift. There are a large number of people on board”, said a spokesman for the coast guard, specifying that their number is between 400 and 500, according to the SOS call received by the authorities.

The operation is a difficult one due to the strong gusts of wind in this area located southwest of Crete, the largest island of Greece.

The coast guard stated that it received the SOS call in the night from Monday to Tuesday, after midnight.

Two cargo ships, an oil tanker and two Italian pescadores were nearby to offer help, the Greek coast guard added.

Following the reinforcement of the Hellenic coast guard patrols and the European border surveillance agency Frontex in the Aegean Sea, migrant smugglers are already using a longer and more dangerous route south of Crete to enter the European Union.

But the human dramas multiply because of the risks to which the migrants who climb aboard precarious boats on a stormy sea are subjected in autumn and winter.

On October 11, at least 30 people died in two shipwrecks off the islands of Lesbos and Kythira. In early November, several people died in two simultaneous shipwrecks.

According to data provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 299 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of 2022, compared to 111 during the whole of last year.

Greece, Italy and Spain are among the main arrival countries for migrants from Africa and the Middle East, eager to reach the European Union.

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