55 migrants on crippled yacht safely towed to Greek island

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A crippled yacht carrying 55 migrants has been safely towed to port on the southeastern Aegean Sea island of Rhodes following an overnight search and rescue operation, Greek authorities said Friday.

Two of the people on the yacht were arrested on suspicions of working with a trafficking ring that arranged for the migrants to illegally enter Greece from nearby Turkey. Officials said everyone on the vessel was in good health.

A coast guard statement said the rescue effort was hampered by high winds blowing in the area since late Thursday, which prevented the migrants from being transferred onto ships that hastened to the spot, some 17 miles southeast of Rhodes.

In separate incident on Tuesday, a total 96 people were rescued from the sea by helicopters, patrol boats and nearby merchant ships after their yacht partially sank west of the small island of Halki, near Rhodes. Two other people originally on the boat have been reported missing.

Thousands of migrants try to reach Greece’s eastern islands every year from Turkey, usually paying high sums to smuggling rings that place them on unseaworthy boats without any crew on board — offering instead a reduced price to passengers who are prepared to navigate by trial and error.

Greek authorities say increased vigilance in patrolling has cut sea arrivals by about 95% so far this year, compared to January-August 2019, despite reduced cooperation by the Turkish coast guard amid high tensions between Greece and Turkey.

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