61 migrants rescued by freighter off Malta land in Crete


ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A group of 61 migrants picked up by cargo ship from a crippled ship in the central Mediterranean have safely reached Crete hours after a critically ill child died on the cargo ship as He was being airlifted to the Greek island, authorities said Wednesday.

It was unclear whether they were the same people who had been reported stranded for days without supplies on a leaking fishing boat near Malta, after trying to sail from Lebanon to Italy.

On Tuesday, a Greek navy helicopter had airlifted a 4-year-old girl with health problems and her mother from the BBC Pearl freighter, which had rescued the migrants, but the child was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital in Crete.

The Coast Guard said the remaining 33 men, seven women and 21 children disembarked the Antigua and Barbuda-flagged vessel at the port of Kali Limenes in southern Crete on Wednesday morning.

Two were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening health conditions, while the others were temporarily housed in a sports hall in the town of Moires.

The migrants told authorities they were Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian.

It was not immediately clear when they were picked up by the freighter, where they had departed from and where they were heading.

The coastguard said in a statement on Tuesday that the BBC Pearl had rescued them from the Malta search and rescue area. He said Greece had received a request around midday on Tuesday from Maltese authorities, who had been contacted by the captain of the freighter, to airlift the mother and child to safety.

The vessel then changed course to Crete to facilitate the airlift, according to the Coast Guard statement.

On Tuesday, activists and relatives of Lebanese and Syrian migrants on a fishing boat taking on water near Malta said they lost contact with the vessel overnight.

The 60 Lebanese and Syrian migrants on board had told relatives and groups of volunteers by satellite phone earlier that they had been without food, water and infant formula for days.

The ship had left the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon about 10 days ago for Italy.

There has been an increase in the number of migrants seeking to travel on dangerous boats from struggling Lebanon to Italy, and Greek authorities have carried out several rescues in recent weeks.

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