350 refugees rescued by cruise ship 'refuse to disembark in Cyprus'

350 refugees rescued by cruise ship 'refuse to disembark in Cyprus'

Limassol (Cyprus) (AFP) - Some 350 mostly Syrian refugees rescued by a cruise liner on Thursday refused to disembark in Cyprus's southern port of Limassol, demanding instead to be taken to Italy, the cruise company said.

The migrants, mainly women and children, had been plucked from a boat in trouble off the coast of Cyprus by a Salamis Cruise Lines ship, according to the company and Cypriot authorities,

"We were supposed to sail at 10:30 tonight (2130 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, speaking of several hundred thousands of euros (dollars) in losses.

"There is no responsible person to negotiate and to explain the situation." he bemoaned.

Medics were attending the migrants at Limassol port, and were ready to send them to hospital if required.

The cruise ship had answered a distress signal from a trawler sailing some 50 nautical miles off the Cyprus coast southwest in poor weather conditions, the Cyprus defence ministry said.

According to the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR), over 2,500 people have drowned or gone missing attempting to cross from North Africa to Europe this year, often aboard rickety and overcrowded boats.

Earlier this month, 500 people were feared drowned after their boat sank off Malta, leaving just 10 survivors.

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