ABOARD THE ASTRAL, MEDITERRANEAN SEA (AP) — A Spanish aid group rescued more than 100 migrants Thursday from three separate migrant boats off Libya's coast and recovered at least four bodies after one of the vessels sank. Relatives reported another two people drowned but rough seas hampered search efforts.
The Associated Press was aboard the Astral rescue ship of the group Proactiva Open Arms when a Libyan fisherman flagged the sunken migrant boat some 20 miles north of the western Libyan city of Sabratha.
The 11-member Astral crew sent out two dinghies to pull survivors from the sea, some of whom were in shock from being in the water for too long. As the survivors were being brought aboard, another two wooden migrant ships approached the Astral seeking help.
All the survivors were transferred to Italian navy vessels who are coordinating the EU's Mediterranean rescue operation. Those rescued by the Astral were among 534 migrants rescued Thursday in 11 different operations, according to the Italian coast guard.
Separately Thursday, Greek authorities reported they had returned 14 migrants to neighboring Turkey, bringing to nearly 500 the total of people sent back under this year's deal between the European Union and Turkey.
The public order ministry said four Pakistani and two Algerian nationals who had entered Greece illegally were taken back by boat from the eastern island of Lesbos Thursday. Another eight Syrians were returned Wednesday on a chartered plane, again from Lesbos.
More than a million refugees and other migrants have reached Greece in smugglers' boats from Turkey since the beginning of 2015, on their way to Europe's prosperous heartland.
Since the EU-Turkey deal came into effect on March 20, the flow has slowed down to just over 10,000 people — 482 of whom have been returned.