Boat carrying hundreds of migrants towed to port after drifting off Crete

A fishing boat crammed with hundreds of migrants which lost steering and had been drifting in the Mediterranean Sea south of the Greek island of Crete has been successfully towed to port, Greek authorities said on Tuesday.

The exact number of people on board was not immediately clear as the passengers had not yet disembarked, the coast guard said.

Passengers who had made a distress call overnight told Greek authorities the boat was carrying about 400-500 people.

The coast guard launched a major rescue operation after receiving the distress call, which said the vessel had lost steering and was drifting in rough seas off the coast of south-eastern Crete.

A Greek navy frigate, a tanker, two cargo ships and two Italian fishing vessels participated in the rescue operation but were unable to transfer passengers from the vessel due to the bad weather.

The fishing boat was towed to the port of Palaiochora in south-eastern Crete, where it arrived in the early afternoon. There were no immediate reports of any injuries or missing people.

It was not immediately known where the boat carrying the migrants had set sail from, what its intended destination was or what the nationalities of those on board were.

Tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa try to make their way into the European Union each year via perilous sea journeys, with most attempting to reach Greece from neighbouring Turkey or taking a longer route to Italy.

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