BELGRADE (Reuters) - A group of migrants, including 11 Syrians, were rescued on Tuesday from an Italian fishing trawler in the Adriatic Sea and taken to Montenegro, police said.
Montenegro’s coastal security sent out a rescue team after Erica, a 15 metre-long (50 feet) vessel, put out a distress signal 17 nautical miles (31 km) off the coast, said Safet Kocan, director of maritime safety.
The Italian ship with migrants on board was finally moored in the Montenegrin port of Zelenika, inside the Boka Kotorska bay.
Police said there were 11 Syrian nationals on the vessel, two people from Morocco and two from Yemen, one person from Afghanistan and one from Pakistan. The group included four children.
“The distress call was sent this morning ... by the Italian fishing vessel Erica seeking assistance as it was transporting 17 people and was facing danger of sinking,” a police statement said.
“According to findings, Erica’s crew had previously aided these people by picking them up from a small inflatable boat in international waters.”
Unlike its neighbours Serbia and Croatia, Montenegro, a small Adriatic nation has so far been largely spared from an inflow of hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, which in 2016 and 2016 poured across the Balkans, heading to the West.
The so-called ‘Balkan route’, was shut in 2016 when Turkey agreed to stem the flow of people in return for EU aid and a promise of visa-free travel for its own citizens.
It was not clear how the migrant group had managed to bypass Italy, a common destination for migrants.
Montenegro may have been the only convenient place to disembark after the group drifted into the Adriatic through the Otranto pass separating Italy and Albania.
Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Richard Balmforth