An estimated 11,900 refugees and migrants crammed onto 120 yachts or sailboats are believed to have made it from Turkey to Italy via Greece this year, as the method has been gaining popularity among migrant smuggling rackets on the other side of the Aegean, despite the danger involved.
These risks were brutally highlighted last week, when three separate wrecks in Greek waters resulted in the death of 30 people, with dozens feared missing.
In the most recent incident, a small catamaran sank on Friday off the coast of Paros – an area that is off the usual smuggling route across the southern part of the Aegean. The 7-8 meter vessel must have been carrying at least 79 passengers, as 63 have been rescued and 16 have been confirmed dead.
“There weren’t any rocks there, so we don’t know how the wreck happened,” Ilias Pantasoulas, a local fisherman who was among the first to reach the wreck, tells Kathimerini, adding that the weather was good and the sea calm. Survivors have said that the engine suddenly stopped working, possibly causing the passengers to panic and accidentally capsize the boat as they rushed to save themselves.
A day earlier, another 11 people drowned near Antikythera off the southeastern Peloponnese, when the sailing boat they were in – crammed with more than 100 people – hit rocks near an islet that 90 passengers were able to swim to. Last Tuesday, moreover, 13 people were rescued near Folegandros in a similar incident and three people have been confirmed dead, though the toll may be much higher as estimates about how many people the sailboat was carrying vary from between 38 and 58.
According to authorities, smuggling rackets charge between 6,000 and 9,000 euros per person for the crossing.