Boat carrying hundreds of migrants docks after Greek rescue: coastguard

A boat believed to be carrying hundreds of migrants was safely towed to the Greek island of Crete on Tuesday after a dramatic rescue complicated by near gale-force winds, the coastguard said.

A boat carrying about 400 migrants is seen upon its arrival at Palaiochora harbour following a rescue operation by Greece's coastguards, at the island of Crete, on November 22, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

The asylum seekers "were towed to port, they have yet to disembark", a coastguard spokeswoman told AFP.

The fishing boat docked in the small Cretan port of Palaiochora. State TV ERT showed footage of the rusty vessel, crammed with people.

No information was immediately available on their nationalities.

The coastguard had earlier said up to 500 people were believed to be on board, based on the distress call they sent after midnight on Monday whilst sailing south of Crete.

ERT put the number on board at 430.

A Greek navy frigate, two cargo ships, a tanker and two Italian fishing boats were dispatched to lend assistance to the vessel that was adrift in winds of over 30 kilometres (19 miles) an hour, the coastguard said.

Because of bolstered patrols by the Greek coastguard and EU border agency Frontex in the Aegean Sea, migrant smugglers are increasingly employing the longer and more perilous route south of Crete, Greek officials say.

"Eighty percent of flows from Turkey go straight to Italy," Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV last week.

Last month, one of the sailboats believed to have 95 people on board sank at the island of Kythira, south of the Peloponnese peninsula.

The boat went down beneath a huge vertical cliff. At least eight people died and survivors -- mainly from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan -- were hauled to safety with ropes and a construction crane in a frantic pre-dawn operation.

Greece, Italy and Spain are among the countries used by people fleeing Africa and the Middle East in search of safety and better lives in the European Union.

The Greek coastguard has said it has rescued about 1,500 people in the first eight months of the year, compared with less than 600 last year.

Dozens more have perished in sinkings over the last month.

The International Organization for Migration has recorded nearly 2,000 migrants killed and missing in the Mediterranean Sea this year.