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228 Syrian migrants rescued off north coast of Cyprus

23 November 2014

About 228 migrants have been rescued after their damaged ship drifted for hours in rough seas off Cyprus’ northern coast, an official said Sunday, ‘Yahoo News’ reports.

TRNC Minister for Transport Hasan Tacoy told The Associated Press that the migrants, including 25 children, have received medical check-ups and are now housed in a sports hall in the coastal town of Kyrenia.

Apart from sea sickness during their 14-hour ordeal, the migrants are in good health, Tacoy said. Authorities are checking the identities of the migrants, who say they are Syrian and want to go to Italy. Their cases will be handled according to international norms regarding migrants.

Tacoy said the authorities received a distress call from the Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship ‘Haj Zaher’ late Saturday, about 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) off the coast. The ship had set sail from the Turkish port of Mersin, but the migrants apparently boarded it in open waters via small boats.

Strong winds and rough seas prevented coast guard vessels from approaching the ‘Haj Zaher’, which was left stranded after experiencing mechanical problems. The crew then abandoned the vessel, according to the migrants. Tacoy said the authorities are searching for another vessel on which the crew may have escaped.

The ‘Haj Zaher’ then drifted to within 300 meters (1,000 feet) from shore where another vessel towed it to Kyrenia port.

An estimated 1.6 million Syrian refugees have entered neighboring Turkey since the Syrian war began in March 2011.

In September, a Greek Cypriot cruise ship rescued 345 Syrian refugees, including 52 children, from a small fishing boat that issued a distress call amid rough seas off the coastal town of Paphos in South Cyprus.

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