Cyprus cruise ship rescued migrants ‘refuse to disembark’

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Almost 350 people, thought to be Syrian refugees, are refusing to disembark from a cruise ship that rescued them off the coast of Cyprus, officials say.

Salamis Cruise Lines Managing Director Kikis Vasiliou said they were insisting they be taken to Italy instead.

The cruise ship, Salamis Filoxenia, is in the port of Limassol and all those rescued are said to be in good health.

The Cypriot defence ministry said 52 children were on the small fishing boat that had sent a distress signal.

“We were supposed to sail at 10:30 tonight (19:30 GMT), unfortunately these people want to negotiate,” Kikis Vassiliou, managing director of Salamis Cruise Lines, told reporters. “They want us to send them to Italy.”

“We did our outmost to save their lives, to give them food, support and now they want to destroy this company,” he added, quoted by AFP news agency, saying the company’s losses as a result of the rescue had run into hundreds of thousands of euros.

The fishing boat was spotted in rough seas 55 nautical miles (100km) south of the town of Paphos.

“It was quite a difficult operation,” Mr Vassiliou was earlier quoted as saying by the Cyprus Mail website.

“All the passengers are safe.”

Cypriot authorities said they had picked up a radio distress signal as the boat was caught in rough seas.

This year has seen a dramatic increase in the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats – particularly people fleeing the conflict in Syria. The majority have headed for Italy and Malta.

Libya, racked by unrest and lawlessness, has become a major people-trafficking hub. However, Cyprus lies closer to Syria.

 

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