At 21 least dead as 2 migrant boats sink in Greek waters - GulfToday

At 21 least dead as 2 migrant boats sink in Greek waters

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At least 21 people died and nearly 30 were still missing after high winds sank two migrant vessels in Greece, the coastguard said on Thursday, with some survivors dramatically hoisted to safety by crane.

A dinghy believed to be carrying around 40 people sank east of the island of Lesbos in high winds, coastguard spokesman Nikos Kokkalas told state TV ERT, adding that the people are of apparent African origin.

The bodies of 16 women and a young boy have been recovered from the area so far, the coastguard said.

A few hours earlier, the coastguard was alerted to a sailboat in distress near the island of Kythira, south of the Peloponnese peninsula. The sailboat believed to be carrying around 95 people ran aground and sank near the island port of Diakofti.

Some of the survivors made it to shore, and an operation involving vessels at sea and the fire service and police on land managed to locate 80 asylum seekers from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

Dramatic footage released by the coastguard showed some of the survivors hoisted up the vertical face of a huge cliff by rope, some barely managing to hold on.

Kythira mayor Stratos Harhalakis said a construction crane was also used in the "titanic" rescue operation.


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There was no official toll yet from a second sinking near the island of Kythira, south of the Peloponnese peninsula, but Harhalakis said he had seen five bodies.

"This was the worst possible place on the island to crash," Harhalakis told ERT.

"Nobody could approach (them) by sea, it was incredibly difficult."

The coastguard said 10 other women had been rescued in the Lesbos incident, while over a dozen people were believed to be missing.

It was difficult to get more information from the survivors as they were "utterly panicked," Kokkalas said.

The survivors in Kythira includes seven women and 18 children, a coastguard spokeswoman told reporters.

Kokkalas said their sailboat had been "completely destroyed."

Both operations were facing adverse weather. In the Kythira area, winds were as high as 102 kilometres per hour, the coastguard said.

Greece has seen increased migration traffic this year, and accuses Turkey of failing to enforce a 2016 agreement with the EU to keep migrants from sailing on to Europe.

A volatile dispute is taking place between Greece and Turkey over the safety of migrants at sea, with Athens accusing its neighbour of failing to stop smugglers active on its shoreline and even using migrants to apply political pressure on the European Union.

Most migrants reach Greece travel from nearby Turkey, but smugglers have changed routes - often taking greater risks - in recent months in an effort to avoid heavily patrolled waters around Greek islands near the Turkish coastline.

"Once again, Turkey’s tolerance of gangs of ruthless traffickers has cost human lives,” Greek Shipping Minister Yannis Plakiotakis said.

Associated Press



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