A Syrian man airlifted to shore from a U.S.-flagged merchant ship that plucked him from stormy seas off Cyprus says he was the lone survivor of a boat that capsized with seven others on board drowning, state radio reported Friday.
Cyprus’ Joint Rescue Coordination Centre said the vessel, Safmarine Nimba, had notified Cypriot authorities Thursday that it had found the man adrift and picked him up about 27 kilometres northeast of Cape Greco.
Cypriot police dispatched a helicopter which then airlifted the Syrian to a hospital in the coastal town of Larnaca to be treated for hypothermia.
The 32-year-old told police on Friday that he was the only survivor from a small group of eight Syrian migrants that departed the sea port of Tripoli, Lebanon – on 21 December – after buying a boat, said state radio quoting police sources.
The migrants tried to use GPS to navigate their way to nearby Cyprus but lost direction and ran out of fuel before their boat capsized in stormy seas on Christmas Day (Tuesday), according to the survivor’s statement to police.
The incident comes days after Cypriot authorities on Tuesday picked up 19 migrants on the island's western tip who had been dropped off by suspect people smugglers.
Over the past 12 months there has been a steady flow of Syrian migrants arriving in Cyprus from Turkey and Lebanon.
Cyprus has warned Brussels it faces growing pressure from increasing irregular migration.
EU data earlier this year showed it had received more asylum applications per capita than any of the bloc's other 28 nations.
Cyprus said it has received over 4,000 asylum requests in the first eight months of 2018 — 55 percent more than in the same period last year.
But despite lying just 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the coast of war-torn Syria, Cyprus has not seen the massive inflow of migrants experienced by Turkey and Greece.