Migrants rescued off Cyprus' north coast

AP News
Posted: Nov 23, 2014 6:26 AM

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — About 228 migrants, apparently refugees from Syria, have been rescued after their damaged ship drifted for hours in rough seas off Cyprus' northern coast, an official said Sunday.

Hasan Tacoy, transport minister of the Turkish Cypriot breakaway state in Cyprus' north, 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 Girne.

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, the official said.

Tacoy said authorities received a distress call from the Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship Haj Zaher late Saturday, about 10 kilometers (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.

Cyprus lies around 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Turkey. The island was ethnically split in 1974, when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Only Turkey has recognized a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence.

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