Storms claim 4 more migrants

Four illegal immigrants drowned in the cold waters of the eastern Aegean on Christmas Day and another five were feared dead after the rubber dinghy ferrying a group of 22 people over from Turkey took in water and began to sink before dawn off the island of Chios. The accident, along with another late on Monday at the other end of Greece, brought the death toll of illegal immigrants in Greek waters to 16 since last Thursday. A Merchant Marine Ministry announcement said its search and rescue center was contacted at 5 a.m. on Christmas Day by a man calling from a mobile phone, who said a dinghy full of illegal immigrants was sinking 11 nautical miles from the islet of Venetiko, off the coast of Chios. Four coastguard patrol boats, a Navy torpedo boat and a Super Puma helicopter were ordered to the area, and located 14 people in the 7-meter dinghy and three bodies in the sea. A fourth man who had been rescued from the boat died in Chios hospital later in the day. None of the dead had been identified by yesterday. The ministry said one of the 14 survivors was Nikolaos Panagopoulos, 44, who was charged yesterday with organizing the clandestine journey from Turkey and manslaughter. Coastguards continued to search the area as, according to survivors, five of the group were missing. Immigrant smugglers usually step up their trips around major holidays, in the hope that security will be lax. Late on Monday, a 15-meter vessel carrying some 160 illegal immigrants believed to have been heading for Italy sank just 10 meters off the beach at Lefkimmi on southwestern Corfu. One man and a little girl were drowned, while the survivors were put up at a local sports center. Last Thursday, at least 10 immigrants drowned off the island of Evia, while over 100 more were rescued.

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