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Coast guard seeks boost in Aegean

A photo from May 2009 shows a group of immigrants waiting in line outside a police station on the small Greek Aegean Sea island of Agathonissi. Over 1,200 immigrants landed on the shores of the island in the first five months of that year.

Efforts to boost the number of coast guard officers serving on Aegean islands where authorities have to deal with large numbers of undocumented migrants who are smuggled by traffickers from Turkey appear to have failed.

Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis recently offered members of the coast guard incentives to transfer to these islands but when the deadline for applications expired Friday, it emerged that only 18 officers had declared an interest in moving.

Nine asked to serve on Rhodes, three on Leros, two on Aghios Efstratios (Ai Stratis), two on Lemnos, one in the overall Dodecanese area and one on Skopelos.

As a result of the low interest in the scheme, the ministry decided to extend the deadline by 10 days. It hopes that more members of the coast guard will step forward in the coming days.

Coast guard officers serving in the northern Aegean told Kathimerini that there has been a spike in the number of migrants trying to reach Greece by sea over the last 18 months. However, they saw a dip over the last few weeks due to the Muslim month of Ramadan.

It has been relatively quiet over the last few days but I believe it is the calm before the storm, said one officer who preferred to remain anonymous.

Rescue operations

The coast guard had to conduct two operations Friday to rescue stranded migrants. In the first, 25 immigrants were helped out of a boat northeast of Agathonisi.

In the other, 34 people were pulled from a motorboat that began taking on water near Samos.

The previous night, officers picked up 17 migrants in a vessel near the Imia islets. A 31-year-old suspected human trafficker was arrested.

ekathimerini.com , Friday August 1, 2014 (20:16)  
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