CONSTANTA, Romania (AP) — Romania's coast guard has rescued more than 150 migrants from Iraq and Iran, including 56 children, from a ship in distress on the Black Sea, on what is becoming a favored route for migrants trying to reach Western Europe.
The rusty ship was towed to the Black Sea port of Constanta, some 250 kilometers (150 miles) east of Bucharest, before dawn Wednesday.
Revising its initial count, the coast guard said it found more 157 migrants from Iran and Iraq who had "intended to illegally enter our country." Some migrants received medical treatment.
Authorities initially spotted the ship outside Romanian territorial waters early Tuesday. It sent a distress signal and two coast guard boats were dispatched, but high waves and winds hampered rescue efforts before the ship was eventually towed to port.
Migrants are increasingly using the Black Sea route from Turkey to reach Romania. Last weekend, coast guard forces from Romania and Bulgaria intercepted 217 migrants in the Black Sea in two boats who were suspected of trying to illegally enter Romania.
Any new influx of migrants through the Black Sea could further exacerbate political strains within the European Union over the issue.
Krzysztof Borowski, a spokesman for the European Union's border agency, Frontex, told The Associated Press, that smugglers are attempting to "revive the route," which as recently as 2014 had been used by some 430 migrants. Since then the numbers have fallen as other routes via Turkey into Greece became popular. In 2015, only 68 migrants used the Black Sea route, followed by one the following year, Borowski added.
Romanian border police told The Associated Press illegal migration has increased this year with 4,200 cases of Afghani, Iraqi, Syrian, Pakistani and Iranian citizens trying to enter or leave Romania. That's up sharply from 2016 when there were 1,624 attempts.
On Sept. 3, Romania's coastguard stopped a fishing vessel carrying 87 migrants in the Black Sea sailing toward the Romanian coast. And last month, the coast guard halted a fishing boat carrying 70 migrants suspected of trying to illegally enter Romania.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.