Fears grow that Ankara is changing migrant smuggling tactics


Greek authorities have received information that at least two decommissioned ships carrying large numbers of migrants, similar to a small tanker that ran aground off a Cycladic island last week, may be setting sail from Turkey to Greece in the coming days.

According to sources, the country’s coast guard and National Intelligence Service (EYP) are concerned that the incident with the tanker, which crashed into the breakwater at the port of Tzia (Kea) in gale-force winds last week while carrying 193 migrants, signals a change of strategy by Turkey as it seeks to put pressure on the European Union by facilitating the passage of thousands of migrants into the bloc, via Greece.

Sea patrols are being increased in order to avert similar attempts to smuggle migrants into Greece in much larger numbers than those allowed by the customary tactic of using dinghies to sail from Turkey’s western shores to the Aegean islands.

The small oil tanker that ran aground off Tzia has been identified as the Dorduncu, a Turkish-flagged ship that was built in 1968. Its passengers, who were able to get off the vessel safely, told investigators that they had paid smugglers in Turkey 5,000 euros each for passage to Italy.

The ship had reportedly set sail from Canakkale in northwestern Turkey and managed to cross the Aegean undetected by switching off its Automatic Identification System.

There are fears in Athens meanwhile that the renewed influx of migrants into Greece could include radicalized Islamists but also carriers of the coronavirus.

At the Turkish land border, Greece has stepped up the use of drones. Turkey is using similar tactics to gather as much information as possible about the situation on the Greek side of the Evros River.

Athens’ key priority is to avert a serious crisis with Turkey, either at the land or sea borders, while the authorities are focused on curbing the spread of the coronavirus.