At least 21 migrants were killed and dozens were still missing on Thursday after two boats sank in waters off Greece in stormy weather.
The Coast Guard said 16 of the bodies were of young African women while one was a young boy. They were in a rubber boat with about 40 people – 13 of whom are still missing – near the island of Lesbos.
“The rescued women were in full panic so we’re still trying to figure out what happened,” Coast Guard spokesman Nikos Kokkalas told state television.
“The women all came from African countries and were over 20 years old. It is being searched both on land and at sea and we hope survivors have made it on land.”
Meanwhile, 80 migrants have been rescued in another incident after their boat broke apart near cliffs in Kythera, southern Greece.
The boat, believed to have 95 people on board, ran aground and sank near the island port of Diakofti.
Some of the survivors made it ashore, and an operation involving ships at sea and firefighters and police ashore managed to locate 80 asylum seekers from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
Sky News reported that witnesses saw the boat smash against rocks and people climbed cliffs to “save themselves”.
“All the residents here went to the port to help,” said resident Martha Stathaki.
“We could see the boat crashing against the rocks and people climbing on those rocks to try to save themselves. It was an incredible sight.”
Kythera Mayor Stratos Harhalakis said a construction crane was also used in the Titanic rescue operation.
“This was the worst possible place on the island to crash,” he said. “No one could approach by sea, it was incredibly difficult.”
Rescuers assisted the survivors by lowering ropes down the cliffs.
Among the survivors were seven women and 18 children, a spokeswoman for the coast guard told AFP.
About 15 people were still missing.
The deaths come amid a heated dispute between Greece and Turkey over the safety of migrants at sea, with Athens accusing its neighbor of failing to stop smugglers active on its coast and even using migrants to exert political pressure on the European Union.
“Once again, Turkey’s tolerance of unscrupulous human traffickers has cost lives,” said Greek Shipping Minister Yannis Plakiotakis.
“As long as the Turkish Coast Guard does not prevent their activities, the smugglers will stuff unsafe people into boats that cannot withstand the weather conditions without safety precautions, putting their lives in mortal danger.”
Turkey denies the allegations and has publicly accused Greece of carrying out ruthless summary deportations, so-called pushbacks.
Last month, during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Greece of “turning the Aegean Sea into a graveyard” and held up photos of dead migrant children.
Most migrants reaching Greece come from nearby Turkey, but smugglers have changed routes in recent months to avoid heavily patrolled waters around the Greek islands near the Turkish coast.
Updated October 06, 2022 10:09 am