At least 16 people have died after a migrant boat capsized in the Aegean Sea on Friday evening, bringing the total death toll to at least 30 from three crashes in as many days involving migrant boats in Greek waters.
The shipwrecks came as smugglers increasingly favor a perilous route from Turkey to Italy, which avoids Greece’s heavily patrolled Eastern Aegean islands that have for years been at the forefront of the crisis migration from the country.
The coast guard said 62 people were rescued after a sailboat capsized on Friday evening 8 km (5 miles) off the island of Paros in the central Aegean Sea. Survivors told Coast Guard about 80 people were on board the ship.
Athens’ semi-official news agency said the bodies of 12 men, three women and an infant were found in the area.
Five coast guard patrol boats, nine private ships, a helicopter and a military transport plane continued the night search for other survivors, authorities said, while coast guard divers also participated.
Turkey-based smugglers increasingly packed yachts with migrants and refugees and sent them to Italy.
Earlier, 11 people were confirmed dead after a sailboat struck a rocky islet on Thursday some 235 km (145 miles) south of Athens, near the island of Antikythera. The coast guard said on Friday that 52 men, 11 women and 27 children had been 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 another incident on Friday, Greek police arrested three people on charges of smuggling and detained 92 migrants after a yacht ran aground in the southern Peloponnese region.
And a search operation continued on a third day in the central Aegean Sea, where a boat carrying migrants sank near the island of Folegandros, killing at least three people. Thirteen other people were rescued and survivors reported that at least 17 people were missing. Authorities said the passengers 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 have fallen sharply in the past two years after Greece extended a wall on Turkey’s border and started intercepting inbound boats carrying migrants and refugees – a tactic criticized by human rights groups.
More than 116,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Mediterranean to reach EU countries this year as of December 19, according to UNHCR. The agency said 55% went to Italy, 35% to Spain and 7% to Greece, with the rest going to Malta and Cyprus.