LIMASSOL, Cyprus — Some 345 migrants rescued from a small boat by a cruise liner – which they refused to leave after being picked up – have finally disembarked, officials said.
Some 700 paying passengers first left the liner, police said, but only 65 of those rescued at sea initially left the ship on Sept. 25 before deciding on Sept. 26 to get off as well, Agence-France-Presse reported.
The others had refused to budge, the shipping company said. The situation was resolved shortly before dawn on Sept. 26 after police entered the vessel to talk to the remaining refugees, who finally agreed to leave, according to Marinos Papadopoulos, an Interior Ministry official. “Everything went calmly,” he said.
The refugees were to be taken by bus to a camp not far from Nicosia. There they would be able to shower, get clean clothes and rest, according to the Red Cross.
Salamis Cruise Lines Managing Director Kikis Vasiliou said that the people were insisting that they be taken to Italy instead.
“They want us to send them to Italy,” Vasiliou told reporters at the east Mediterranean island’s main Limassol port. “The authorities, they have to decide what they want to do.”
Vasiliou blamed Cypriot authorities for keeping him in the dark about how they intend to resolve the situation.
Cypriot officials said that the 345 people, including 52 children, were to be taken to a reception center near the capital Nicosia where they would be given shelter and medical attention until authorities determine what will happen to them.
Dozens of civil defense officials, medical staff and police were waiting at dockside to receive the people after the cruise ship had docked. A small group did disembark from the ship to negotiate with authorities, Vasiliou said, but talks broke off with the group returning to the ship.
But several adults holding small children were seen leaving the cruise ship, while one man led away by police in handcuffs.
A man later came on the cruise ship’s public address system to urge the group to disembark through an Arabic-speaking interpreter by telling them that authorities would do all they can to send those who met the criteria to other European countries.
The people were packed aboard a small vessel that issued a distress call early Sept. 25th amid rough seas and high winds some 50 nautical miles off Cyprus’ southwestern coastal town of Paphos.
The Cypriot Defense Ministry said the boat had “most likely” set sail from Syria loaded with “civilian refugees.”
Vasiliou said his company received the request from Cypriot Search and Rescue authorities to assist in the rescue operation while the cruise ship was returning to Cyprus from the Greek islands.
But he said the unexpected turn of events is costing his company “several hundred thousand” euros after the cancellation of a trip by 300 mainly Russian tourists to Haifa, Israel aboard the cruise ship that was scheduled to depart late Sept. 25.
Thousands of migrants fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and northern Africa attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea in rickety boats in search of safe havens in Europe, and hundreds have died at sea.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)