Turkey chases 'migrant' cargo ship

2015-03-12 23:42


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Istanbul - Turkey's coastguard on Thursday closed the Dardanelles Straits to shipping after launching a chase for a cargo ship suspected of carrying hundreds of illegal migrants, reports said.

The ship did not heed calls from the coastguard, including warning shots, and continued on its course, the Dogan news agency reported.

"We want to stop a ship on suspicion of carrying foreign illegal migrants," it quoted the head of the western Canakkale province Ahmet Cinar as saying.

"The coastguard wanted to approach the ship but the captain refused permission," added Cinar, whose region includes the Dardanelles Straits.

"The coastguard is currently continuing the chase for the ship inside the Straits," he said.

Dogan said that the coastguard had fired warning shots and had also closed the Dardanelles to other shipping traffic to ensure the operation proceeded in security.

The Dardanelles lead into the Sea of Marmara which then goes into the Bosphorus in Istanbul itself. The waterway is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, and is 1.2km wide at its narrowest point.

Dogan said that up to 500 migrants were believed to be on the vessel while other reports estimated the numbers at 400.

Dogan Kartal

The planned itinerary of the ship and its port of origin were not immediately clear.

The Hurriyet daily quoted Cinar as saying the vessel was 59m long and named the Dogan Kartal. The Dogan news agency published a picture of the suspect vessel partially obscured by fog.

Turkey, which already hosts 1.7 million Syrian refugees from the civil war, has become a key transit point for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

Many pay traffickers thousands of dollars to take perilous journeys in small boats which often end in disaster.

But there has also been increasing attention on the use of large ships by people traffickers with Italian authorities intercepting vessels.

Read more on:    turkey  |  migrants

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