Child on boat drifting in Mediterranean Sea for days dies: Cyprus official

Child on boat drifting in Mediterranean Sea for days dies: Cyprus official
The deceased girl, who died because of a cardiac arrest, was among the 60 Syrian migrants who had located by Cypriot search and rescue teams on Wednesday.
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Migrants from Syria and Lebanon often embark on the perilous journey through the eastern Mediterranean to reach European shores [Getty/file photo]

A child discovered unconscious on a boat drifting for days in the eastern Mediterranean has died, health authorities in Cyprus said on Thursday.

The girl was among a group of 60 Syrians who were located by a Cypriot search and rescue team on a heavily-loaded fishing boat 30 nautical miles off Cyprus on Wednesday morning. They had been at sea since January 18, after sailing from Lebanon.

"Unfortunately one of the three children has died. It was a sudden death caused by cardiac arrest," a spokesperson for Cyprus's national health organisation told Alpha Cyprus TV.

The child's death was a grim reminder of the risks taken by migrants travelling open seas between the Middle East and Cyprus, a journey of 18 to 20 hours in optimal conditions but known for unpredictable weather.

Although sea crossings to Cyprus have more than quadrupled in the past year, deaths are exceptionally rare.

"This terrible tragedy underscores that the migration issue is a serious problem which requires a comprehensive approach from the European Union," said Cypriot government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis.

Two other children who were found unconscious on board the boat remained in an intensive care unit in Cyprus' capital Nicosia.

A 47-year old man who was also on the vessel, which had run out of fuel and had no navigational equipment, is being questioned by police.

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Cyprus has seen a surge in irregular migration by sea in the past year; it recorded 4,259 arrivals in 2023 compared with 937 in 2022. It lies a mere 100 miles (161 kms) from the coasts of both Syria and Lebanon, and upheaval in the region is fanning fears of a further increase.

Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou has said he would raise the need for better patrols with his European Union counterparts meeting at an informal summit on Thursday. Cyprus also wants the EU to consider declaring parts of Syria safe, which would allow authorities to return irregular migrants and deter future arrivals.