17 migrants missing in wreck

At least two people drowned and another 17 were missing in wild seas off eastern Attica yesterday after a yacht carrying some 45 illegal immigrants foundered in a storm, on its way to Evia. By late yesterday, police and coast guards had located 26 of the yacht’s passengers – all Kurdish men – who had managed to swim to the rocky islet of Petalii, near the harbor of Karystos in southern Evia. The bodies of two women were found in the sea just off Petalii, together with the wreckage of the vessel. Survivors said another 17 people had been on board. «Despite adverse weather conditions, we have combed the area for the other 17 migrants, but, unfortunately, by the evening we had found no trace of them,» a coast guard officer told Kathimerini. «I am afraid that as time passes the chances of finding them are shrinking.» Coast guards mounted a large rescue operation after an anonymous tip-off at 11.10 a.m. that a yacht was in difficulty near Petalii, between Karystos and the eastern Attica port of Rafina, some 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from Athens. Patrol boats and two rescue helicopters rushed to the area, but the effort was hampered by heavy rain and high winds that reached nine on the Beaufort scale. Smugglers frequently use Evia as a drop-off point for illegal immigrants paying up to 2,500 euros to make the sea crossing from Turkey, often in rough seas when the risk of interception by coast guard patrols is lower. Between 1992 and the end of 2003, at least 74 people drowned in Greek waters while attempting the crossing, and another 145 are missing, believed dead. On Dec. 20, over 50 illegal immigrants are believed to have died when a boat capsized off Turkey, on its way to Rhodes. Last year, coast guards arrested 2,439 illegal immigrants and 74 people smugglers.

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