Coast guard divers searched the hull of a submerged sailboat for passengers possibly trapped inside Friday after the vessel hit rocks and sank off the coast of southern Greece, leading to the deaths of at least 11 people.
The Greek coast guard said 90 people ‒ 52 men, 11 women and 27 children ‒ were rescued overnight and early Friday from a rocky islet some 235 kilometers (145 miles) south of Athens, near the remote island of Antikythera.
Smugglers based in Turkey increasingly have packed sailboats with migrants and refugees and sent them across the Mediterranean Sea toward Italy, avoiding the heavily patrolled Greek islands.
“We are extremely saddened at reports that at least seven people lost their lives in a shipwreck north of Antikythera,” the Greek office of the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, tweeted before the divers helped recover four more bodies. “People need safe alternatives to these perilous crossings.”
The coast guard released a video of the rescue operation. It showed people being put into life rafts and transferred to a patrol boat. The survivors were being brought to the port of Piraeus, near Athens.
In a separate incident Friday, Greek police arrested three people on smuggling charges and detained 92 migrants after a yacht ran aground in the southern Peloponnese region.
A search operation also continued for a third day in the central Aegean Sea, where a boat carrying migrants sank near the island of Folegandros. Thirteen people were rescued, and the survivors reported that at least 17 others were missing. Authorities said the passengers originally were from Iraq.
Greece is a popular entry point into the European Union for people fleeing conflict and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. But arrivals dropped sharply in the last two years after Greece extended a wall at the Turkish border and began intercepting inbound boats carrying migrants and refugees‒ a tactic criticized by human rights groups.
More than 116,000 asylum-seekers crossed the Mediterranean to reach EU countries this year as of Dec. 19, according to UNHCR. The agency said 55% traveled illegally to Italy, 35% to Spain, and 7% to Greece, with the remainder heading to Malta and Cyprus. [AP]