Night sea patrols seek migrants

Coast guard officials in the Aegean have intensified their patrols, particularly at night, in a bid to curb a surge of immigrants seeking to enter the country illegally from the neighboring Turkish coast. The Port Authority has increased patrols after dark as this is when most smugglers’ boats try to make the brief crossing from Turkey to one of Greece’s Aegean islands, official say. «The main problem is the long sea border we share with (Turkey), the closeness of the Greek and Turkish coastlines and the organized (smuggling) rings,» Lesvos Port Authority Chief Apostolos Mikromastoras told Kathimerini. «With the means that traffickers have at their disposal, they can cover the shortest distance between our coasts in just five minutes,» he said. Smugglers use speedboats that can operate up to 70 knots (or 130 kilometers per hour) or low-lying inflatable dinghies that can elude the coast guard’s radar. When smugglers are approached by the Greek coast guard, even at night, they often throw would-be migrants overboard, the captain of a patrol vessel, who identified himself only as Kyriakos, told Kathimerini. According to coast guard officials, migrants are often «trained» to abandon their vessel if approached by Greek authorities by smugglers who tell them that «the Greeks will not let you drown.» According to Greek officials, the modes of travel used by would-be migrants entering Greece depend upon the fee paid to traffickers. «Those who have money are taken by speedboat to an Aegean island where they are picked up by another trafficker who helps them board a ferry to Piraeus,» a port authority official said. Those less fortunate are crammed onto – rarely seaworthy – wooden boats to undergo a slower, far riskier, journey to Samos, Lesvos, Chios or some other Aegean island. Many of those reaching the western port of Patras are packed into commercial containers and loaded onto ships bound for Italy.