At least 16 people have died after a migrant boat capsized in the Aegean Sea late Friday, bringing to at least 30 the combined death toll from three accidents in as many days involving migrant boats in Greek waters.
The sinkings came as smugglers increasingly favour a perilous route from Turkey to Italy, which avoids Greece’s heavily patrolled eastern Aegean islands that for years were at the forefront of the country’s migration crisis.
The coast guard said 62 people were rescued after a sailboat capsized late Friday 8km (5 miles) off the island of Paros in the central Aegean. Survivors told the coast guard that about 80 people had been on the vessel.
The country’s semi-official Athens News Agency said the bodies of 12 men, three women and an infant were recovered from the area.
Five coast guard patrol boats, nine private vessels, a helicopter and a military transport plane continued the night-time search for more survivors, authorities said, while coast guard divers also participated.
Smugglers based in Turkey increasingly have packed yachts with migrants and refugees and sent them towards Italy.
Earlier, 11 people were confirmed dead after a sailboat on Thursday struck a rocky islet some 235km (145 miles) south of Athens, near the island of Antikythera. The coast guard said Friday that 52 men, 11 women and 27 children were rescued after spending hours on the islet.
“People need safe alternatives to these perilous crossings,” the Greek office of the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said in a tweet.
In a separate incident Friday, Greek police arrested three people on smuggling charges and detained 92 migrants after a yacht ran aground in the southern Peloponnese region.
And a search operation continued for a third day in the central Aegean, where a boat carrying migrants sank near the island of Folegandros, killing at least three people. Thirteen others were rescued, and the survivors reported that at least 17 people were missing. Authorities said the passengers originally were from Iraq.
Greece is a popular entry point into the European Union for people fleeing conflict and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. But arrivals dropped sharply in the last two years after Greece extended a wall at the Turkish border and began intercepting inbound boats carrying migrants and refugees – a tactic criticised by human rights groups.
More than 116,000 asylum-seekers crossed the Mediterranean to reach EU countries this year as of 19 December, according to UNHCR. The agency said 55% travelled to Italy, 35% to Spain and 7% to Greece, with the remainder heading to Malta and Cyprus