Greek authorities have launched a major search and rescue operation for dozens of migrants missing after a boat they were traveling on from Turkey overturned and sank in rough weather overnight between the islands of Evia and Andros.
The coast guard said Tuesday that nine people, all men, had been found on an uninhabited rocky islet in the Kafirea Straits between the two islands, which lie east of the Greek capital. The survivors, who were picked up by a coast guard patrol boat, told authorities there had been a total of about 68 people on board the sailing boat when it sank, and that they had initially set sail from Izmir on the Turkish coast.
Authorities were initially alerted by a distress call in the early hours of Tuesday from passengers saying the boat they were on was in trouble, but they did not provide a location. Weather in the area was particularly rough, with gale force winds. The coast guard said a helicopter, a coast guard patrol boat and two nearby ships were participating in the search and rescue operation.
A separate search and rescue operation was also ongoing since Monday off the coast of the eastern Aegean island of Samos for eight people reported missing after an inflatable dinghy carrying migrants overturned. Four survivors were rescued Monday from that incident. A coast guard aircraft and patrol boat, two nearby ships and a vessel from the European border patrol agency Frontex were participating in the search, authorities said.
Thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa, Asia and the Middle East attempt to enter the European Union through Greece each year. Most make the short but often perilous crossing from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands in inflatable dinghies. Others opt to attempt to circumvent Greece in overcrowded sailboats and yachts heading straight to Italy.
Earlier this month, at least 27 people drowned in two separate incidents. In one, 18 people died when a boat that had set sail from Turkey sank off the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos, while in the other, a yacht carrying about 100 people sank in a gale, killing at least nine and leaving six missing.