Greek coast guards scoured for survivors in the Aegean Sea on Saturday (25 December) after the latest in a series of migrant boat accidents that have killed at least 30 people in just days.
Late Friday, the coastguard found 16 bodies, including those of three women and a baby, and rescued 63 people from a boat that overturned and sank near the island of Paros.
According to those rescued, around 80 people had been on the vessel that was bound for Italy.
Smugglers operating from Cesme and Bodrum on the Turkish coast are packing migrants in yachts to send them to Italy using new, more dangerous routes, according to the ERT television channel.
Three coast guard patrol boats, private vessels, a coast guard plane as well as divers searched for more survivors, officials said.
The latest tragedy — the third since Wednesday — came amid high smuggler activity not seen in Greek waters in months.
Hours earlier, 11 bodies were recovered from another boat that ran aground on an islet north of the Greek island of Antikythera on Thursday evening.
Coast guard said on Saturday that two of the rescued migrants — both men suspected of being the smugglers — were arrested.
Ninety people stranded on the islet were rescued.
And on Wednesday, a dinghy carrying migrants capsized off the island of Folegandros, killing at least three people.
‘Indifferent to human life’
Thirteen people were rescued, while dozens remain missing, Greek authorities said.
Survivors gave conflicting accounts: Some said there had been 32 people on board, while others put the number around 50, a coast guard official told AFP.
The UN refugee agency said the Folegandros accident could end up being the worst in the Aegean this year, as an unknown number of people were still missing.
“This shipwreck is a painful reminder that people continue to embark on perilous voyages in search of safety,” said Adriano Silvestri, the UNHCR’s assistant representative in Greece.
Earlier Friday, the coastguard had intercepted another boat with 92 men and boys on board after it ran aground on the coast of the Peloponnese peninsula.
Three suspected smugglers who fled the boat on foot were later arrested.
The UNHCR estimates that more than 2,500 people have died or gone missing at sea as they tried to reach Europe from January through November this year.
Nearly one million people, mainly Syrian refugees, arrived in the European Union in 2015 after crossing the sea to the Greek islands close to Turkey.
“These days, the criminal activity of smugglers, who are indifferent to human life, has intensified, stacking dozens of distressed people, without life jackets, on boats that do not even meet the basic safety standards,” Giannis Plakiotakis, Maritime Affairs Minister said late Friday pointing the finger at Turkey, saying Ankara “lets smugglers act unchecked.”
Rivals Greece and Turkey regularly spar over the issue of migrants, with Athens accusing Ankara of turning a blind eye to people attempting to cross into EU member Greece and Turkey denying the charges.