Migrants drown in Aegean

Two illegal immigrants drowned in the eastern Aegean yesterday and rescue operations were stretching into the night to locate another seven who were missing after 50 people, in two separate cases, tried to secretly sail to Greece from Turkey. In the first incident, early yesterday morning, a wooden boat carrying some 32 migrants from Somalia and Palestine, was hit by an unidentified merchant ship off the coast of Chios. As the incident occurred just inside Greek territorial waters, the coast guard attended to the sinking boat and pulled 25 illegal immigrants out of the sea. One immigrant was found already drowned and rescuers later recovered another body from the sea. Five more from the group were still missing last night. Meanwhile, 16 illegal immigrants from Sudan, Somalia, Palestine and Sierra Leone were intercepted by the coast guard yesterday near the small island of Farmakonisi. The migrants, two of whom were slightly injured, told authorities that there had originally been a total of 18 people on board, prompting an air-and-sea search for the two missing people. Nobody had been found by last night. Authorities said a Turkish human trafficker may have been among those rescued. At least 63 more illegal immigrants attempted to reach Greek shores over the weekend. Senior sources in the coast guard told Kathimerini yesterday that this rise in the number of migrants sailing from Turkey appeared to be due to a major reduction in the number of patrols by the Turkish coast guard. The same sources attributed this to heightened tension between Greece and Turkey in the wake of the violation of Greek territorial waters at the Imia islets by a Turkish coast guard vessel two weeks ago, and the ensuing 26-hour standoff.

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