ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A broken down sailing yacht with 74 migrants and two smugglers on board has safely reached a western Greek port after issuing a distress signal off the resort island of Zakynthos, Greek authorities said Monday.
A coast guard statement said two Turkish nationals were arrested on suspicion of belonging to a criminal ring smuggling migrants into Europe.
The passengers, who lacked identity papers, told Greek authorities they were from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. There were 48 men and 26 women on board. The vessel was believed to have been heading for Italy, but it wasn’t clear where it had sailed from.
The yacht was located late Saturday, following a search and rescue operation that involved two coast guard boats and private pleasure boats. It was brought to the port of Katakolo in the southern Peloponnese region Sunday, and confiscated.
Despite heightened vigilance by Greek authorities after Turkey declared its land border with Greece open to thousands of migrants in March — resulting in a tense standoff on the sealed Greek side of the border — around 11,500 asylum-seekers have managed to illegally enter the country this year. Most arrived by boat from Turkey.
About 75,000 asylum-seekers reached the country in the whole of 2019. The drop so far this year is attributed to stricter policing of Greece’s land and sea borders, in combination with COVID-19-linked lockdowns.