Athens: The Greek island of Crete was preparing on Wednesday to take in some 700 migrants aboard a freighter immobilised by engine failure, local officials said.
The Kiribati-flagged ferry Baris was being towed by a Greek navy frigate to the Cretan port of Ierapetra, and was expected to arrive on Thursday, the Greek coastguard said.
"The freighter is expected to arrive early on Thursday owing to poor weather conditions," a coastguard spokesman told AFP.
The town authorities are planning to temporarily house the migrants in a 1,000-seat basketball stadium, once they have undergone health screening before they disembark, the mayor of Ierapetra said.
"A year or two ago we had to accommodate 140 migrants...but we have never had a situation involving 700 people, it is a major problem," said mayor Theodosis Kalantzakis.
"This has never happened before in Greece," he said.
The medics who will screen the immigrants will wear protective gear as a precaution against the Ebola virus, the mayor said.
The 77-metre (253-foot) Baris issued a distress call on Tuesday as it sailed some 30 nautical miles (56 kilometres) southeast of Crete.
Greece is one of the main points of entry into the European Union for people fleeing war-torn and poor countries in Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
Many of the recent arrivals are escaping the war in Syria, where more than 200,000 people have been killed, according to UN figures.
Some 28,000 Syrians have been caught illegally entering Greece since January, compared to just 8,500 last year.
Around 200 Syrians are currently staging a protest at Athens` central Syntagma Square to demand housing from the Greek authorities, after spending the previous months sleeping in parks or on the street.
Several among them are on hunger strike, and nine have already been hospitalised after fainting.
People traffickers are increasingly using Greece`s Aegean islands to smuggle migrants into Europe after the building of a fence and tighter controls along the Greek-Turkish land border.