In one of the largest rescue operations carried out in recent months in the eastern Mediterranean, 96 migrants were salvaged on Tuesday evening in international waters west of the island of Halki, Greece’s Coast Guard said on Wednesday.
The nationalities of the rescued have not been disclosed yet. But according to an emailed press statement, several of them were minors without life jackets and they also included three suspected smugglers who have been detained.
Nineteen of the passengers on board the vessel in distress were collected by the Turkish Coast Guard, the Greek authorities noted.
“Our country has proved with this operation that it is protecting the borders of Greece and Europe, and at the same time it is saving lives in danger,” stressed the Greek Coast Guard statement.
“This is another strong proof that our action at sea is not only national but also humanitarian,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, addressing the country’s parliament on Wednesday during a debate on the delimitation of maritime borders in the Mediterranean Sea.
Tuesday’s incident occurred in an area claimed by both Greece and Turkey. Tensions have increased lately between the two neighbors over drilling rights for energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
“The road to communication concerning the sole open issue we have with Turkey, which is the delimitation of maritime borders in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, is open. The only condition is that (Turkey) should immediately stop provocations,” Mitsotakis said on Wednesday in his speech, which was carried live by Greek national broadcaster ERT.
Greece considers Turkey’s ongoing natural gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean a violation of international law. The Turkish government, on the other hand, believes the waters, in which natural gas is being drilled on a trial basis, belong to the Turkish continental shelf.
The Greek leader also recalled that Athens has reached this summer two emblematic agreements with Italy and Egypt, resolving long-standing issues concerning maritime.
Greece’s parliament will vote on Thursday on the ratification of these two agreements.