Three immigrants died on Monday after the smuggling boat they were in crashed on to rocks off the coast of Rhodes in the southeastern Aegean even as hundreds of migrants remained unaccounted for off Italy following similar tragedies.
Coast guard officials on Rhodes said they recovered the bodies of a man, a woman and a child and rescued another 90 immigrants after their wooden sailing boat struck rocks near the island’s main port shortly after 9 a.m. Of the survivors, 27 were transferred to a local hospital for first-aid treatment while the rest were said to be in good health. Most of the migrants were of Syrian origin, according to sources, and had sought to cross into Greece from neighboring Turkey.
Television coverage of the rescue operation showed migrants huddled on the wreckage of their boat, which was smashed when it hit the rocks, while coast guard officials tried to reach them amid choppy waters. Dozens of residents joined the rescue effort, wading into the waters off Zefyros, close to the main port of Rhodes, and later offering clothes to the migrants.
Stathis Samaras, the head of the union representing Dodecanese coast guard officers, told Kathimerini that the situation could have been much worse. “If we had not mobilized as quickly as we did, if coast guard vessels had not arrived immediately, and citizens’ boats, as well as the dozens of people we had helping on the shore, we probably would have had more deaths.”
The drownings followed warnings by Greek officials about an uncontrollable influx of immigrants as the coast guard said arrivals had tripled in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period last year. A total of 10,445 immigrants were detained between January 1 and March 31 compared to 2,863 in the same period in 2014.
The tragedy in Greece came as another smuggling vessel foundered off the Italian coastline with hundreds feared to be dead. Authorities in both Greece and Italy called again on the European Union to help solve the problem and European Council President Donald Tusk called an emergency summit for Thursday.