Hundreds of migrants stranded off the coast of Paphos in Cyprus

Overloaded fishing boat thought to be filled with people fleeing Syria

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A cruise ship has been sent to rescue hundreds of people stranded aboard a fishing trawler off the coast of Cyprus.

A statement from the Cypriot Defence Ministry said the small boat had "most likely" set sail from Syria loaded with "civilian refugees". A Salamis Cruise ship has been instructed to change course and pick up the estimated 300 people aboard the fishing trawler, holding mostly women and children, Kikis Vasiliou, the company’s managing director told The Associated Press.

Mr Vasiliou said the company received the request from Cypriot Search and Rescue authorities to assist in the rescue operation on Thursday morning while the cruise ship was returning to Cyprus from the Greek islands.

The Defense Ministry said the small boat is located about 50 nautical miles off Cyprus's south-western coastal town of Paphos. 

Mr Vasiliou said the cruise ship, with a crew of 230 and a passenger capacity of 800, would be able to give rescued people blankets, medical care and food while taking them to the Cypriot port of Limassol. 

No official reason was given as to why the boat issued its emergency call, but a Defence Ministry statement said it involved "inclement weather conditions" in the area. The ministry said once the rescued people arrive in Cyprus they will be given shelter.

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Thousands of migrants fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and northern Africa attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea in rickety boats in search of safe havens in Europe, and hundreds of them have died at sea. The above graphic from Statista shows just how dangerous this region has become, with over 3,000 migrant border-related deaths. 

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