The number of people killed by the sinking of two migrant boats increased to 21, and many more are still unaccounted for, as bodies drifted among shattered debris in the ocean off a Greek island on Thursday.
The boats capsized hundreds of miles apart, sparking dramatic midnight rescue operations in one instance as locals and firemen helped stranded migrants climb cliffs to safety.
The fatal instances increased tension between Greece and Turkey, two countries that are embroiled in a bitter conflict over immigration and maritime borders. A other migrant boat that capsized off the coast of Greece only a few weeks before also left hundreds of people missing.
A dinghy carrying around 40 passengers sunk, leaving 16 young African women and one young male dead, according to the coast guard on Lesbos, an island in the eastern Mediterranean. According to coast guard personnel, ten women were saved while 13 other migrants were thought to be missing.
According to coast guard spokesperson Nikos Kokkalas, “the ladies who were rescued were in a complete state of fear so we are still trying to piece out what occurred.”
“All of the ladies, who ranged in age from 20 to 30, were from African nations. We hope that survivors got it to shore since there is a search underway both on land and at sea.”
A sailboat that hit rocks and sunk off the island of Kythira, some hundred kilometers to the west, was the target of the second rescue operation.
At least four migrants’ remains were discovered among floating sailboat wreckage. Official records of the fatalities will be created after the corpses were found, according to the authorities. They stated that although the search for up to 11 persons currently thought to be missing is ongoing, 80 people from Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan have been saved.
Survivors clinging to ropes were carried to safety up steep cliffs while others were buffeted by waves as they waited their turn on small sections of rock at the bottom, with gusts in the region hitting 45 mph overnight on Kythira.
The Associated Press reported by Martha Stathaki, a nearby resident, that “all the locals here ran down to the harbor to try and assist.”
“As the boat crashed into the cliffs, we could see individuals scrambling up the rocks in an effort to rescue themselves. It was a breathtaking sight.”
Kythira is located around 250 miles west of Turkey on a path that smugglers often use to skip Greece and go straight to Italy.
Greece and Turkey are engaged in a contentious disagreement over the safety of migrants at sea. Athens accuses its neighbor of neglecting to crack down on people traffickers operating along its coastline and even of exploiting refugees to exert political pressure on the European Union.
The majority of migrants arrive in Greece through the neighboring country of Turkey, but in recent months, smugglers have adjusted their tactics and have taken bigger risks in an attempt to escape the highly monitored waterways around the Greek islands that border Turkey.
Greek Shipping Minister Yannis Plakiotakis stated, “Once again, Turkey’s indulgence of gangs of unscrupulous traffickers has cost human lives.
“The traffickers squeeze unfortunate individuals, without safety precautions, onto vessels that cannot survive the stormy conditions, putting their lives in grave risk,” says the Turkish coastguard.
In a tweet, Notis Mittarachi, the minister of migration for Greece, urged Turkey to “immediately act to prohibit any unauthorized departures due to terrible weather circumstances.”
“People are drowning in unsafe boats in the Aegean today, taking many lives with them. The EU must act “He composed.
Turkey disputes the accusations and has openly charged Greece with engaging in careless pushback deportations.
When seeking asylum in the European Union, refugees from Africa and the Middle East often choose Greece as their destination.
At the UN General Assembly last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held up images of dead migrant children and accused Greece of “turning the Aegean Sea into a tomb.”
Since 2014, the Mediterranean area has received reports of over 24,000 missing migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Since 2014, more than 17,000 fatalities and disappearances have been reported in the Central Mediterranean, making it the “deadliest known migration route in the world,” according to the organization.
In one of the bloodiest recent accidents in the eastern Mediterranean, Syrian police said last month that they had found 100 victims from a Lebanese migrant boat that had capsized off Syria.