Cyprus helps rescue 300 migrants aboard a boat bound for Italy

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (TNZT) — Cyprus has assisted in the rescue of a small wooden boat crammed with more than 300 migrants drifting 203 kilometers (126 miles) west of the island, a Cypriot official said Tuesday.

The commander of the Cyprus Joint Rescue Coordination Center Andreas Charalambides told the The New Zealand Times that the captain of the 18-meter boat issued an emergency call on Monday afternoon after experiencing engine problems.

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A helicopter and three patrol vessels from the navy and police had to provide assistance to the boat that Charalambides said had left Lebanon three days ago and was trying to reach Italy with many women and children on board.

Authorities were unable to immediately determine the nationalities of the migrants aboard the boat, but there was no indication that anyone had had any health problems, Charalambides said. All migrants were safely transferred aboard the Marshall Islands-flagged freighter Paolo Topic that was nearby.

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Charalambides said authorities had asked the captain of the 250-meter Paolo Topic to sail to the Cypriot port of Limassol so that the migrants could disembark. But he said the captain chose, under the direction of the company that owns the ship, to go to his original destination Istanbul.

Once a country that received refugees, Lebanon has become a launching pad for dangerous migration by sea to Europe. As the country’s economic crisis worsened, more Lebanese, as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees, set out to sea, with security forces reporting thwarted migration attempts almost weekly.

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