Author: Elena Becatoro | Related press
ATHENS, Greece – The Greek coast guard searched dozens of migrants on Tuesday after the overloaded sailboat they were on capsized and sank in a stormy sea on an island near Athens, authorities said.
The incident at night was the latest in a series of recent shipwrecks involving migrant boats that left dozens of people dead or missing in Greek waters.
Ten survivors, all men, were rescued and transported to the island of Evia, off the eastern coast of the Greek capital. The first nine were discovered at night on an uninhabited island south of Euboea, and authorities informed authorities that there were about 68 people on the sailboat at the time of the sinking.
A tenth survivor was ripped out of the water hours later on Tuesday afternoon by a cargo ship involved in a search and rescue operation, the coastguard said.
The first survivors told Greek authorities that the boat departed from Izmir on the Turkish coast. There was no information about their nationality.
The rescue operation took place in particularly bad weather, with strong winds on Tuesday morning. The Kafireas Strait, where the boat sank, between the islands of Evia and Andros, is notoriously treacherous, and rough seas are common even in light winds.
Photos of the operation posted by the Coast Guard showed a small group of people standing on the rocks below the cliff waving for help, and the waves crashing against the Coast Guard patrol boat during the night’s search and rescue operations. The coastguard photo showed survivors wrapped in emergency foil blankets sitting on the deck of the patrol boat.
The coast guard said authorities were initially alerted Tuesday of the boat in trouble, but callers did not provide a location. An airplane, a coast guard patrol boat and two nearby ships participated in the search and rescue.
A separate sea rescue operation continued Tuesday afternoon for seven missing persons from an inflatable dinghy that capsized Monday with 12 people on board. Four survivors were rescued on Monday from this incident off the coast of the eastern Aegean island of Samos, which lies off the Turkish coast.
The coast guard said a cargo ship involved in the operation located the body in Greek territorial waters on Tuesday. The Turkish coast guard vessel, which was not part of the rescue operation, took the body, the coast guard said.
During reconstruction, a Turkish ship allegedly harassed a Greek coastguard vessel and attempted to damage it while “showing off the weapon,” said the Greek Coast Guard.
There is high tension between neighbors and NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, and they are at odds on many issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea.
Greek Shipping Minister Giannis Plakiotakis att*cked Turkey for “allowing ruthless smuggling rings to send people to their d*aths, and Greece saved as many as it can.”
He claimed that the Turkish coastguard vessel acted provocatively in entering Greek territorial waters “perhaps intending to trigger an incident”.
Greece, Plakiotakis said in a statement, “will continue to save lives without getting caught up in the games Turkey is looking for in the Aegean Sea.”
Turkey has vehemently rejected the accusations, arguing that the body was excavated in international waters and that it was a Greek boat that had approached the Turkish ship dangerously close. A statement by the Turkish Coast Guard said that personnel on board a Greek ship aimed their weapons at the Turks, prompting a strong reaction from the Turkish ship.
“The attitude adopted by Greek coastguard personnel during a search and rescue operation with the sole purpose of saving lives in the international waters of Turkey’s search and rescue region is contrary to international law as well as to human rights,” the statement reads.
Thousands of people fleeing conflicts and poverty in Africa, Asia and the Middle East each year try to enter the European Union via Greece.
Most of them make the short but often dangerous crossing from the Turkish coast to the nearby Greek islands in inflatable boats. Others decide to try to avoid Greece in overcrowded sailboats and yachts headed straight to Italy.
At least 27 people dr*wned in two separate incidents last month. One of them killed 18 people when a boat that sailed from Turkey sank in the eastern part of the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea. In the second, a yacht with around 100 people sank in a gale, killing at least nine people and leaving six missing.
Off the coast of Italy, more than 900 migrants saved by charity boats in the last few days waited on Tuesday for Italian authorities to allocate ports where the crowded ships can drop passengers.
So far, the new, far-right government of Italy is sticking to the policies of the previous governments by not giving immediate permission to migrants to the mainland.
The new interior minister said he planned to crack down on boats suspected of helping illegal immigration.
Separately, about 280 migrants disembarked on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa on Tuesday. Hundreds of others have been relocated from chronically overcrowded apartments on the island for asylum seekers to larger facilities in Sicily or Italy.
Frances D’Emilio in Rome and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed to this report.
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