At least 21 killed and dozens missing after two boats sink off Greece

Among the dead are 16 young African women and a boy, says coastguard

A migrant hangs from a rope during a rescue operation on the island of Kythera, in southern Greece. Reuters
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At least 21 migrants were killed and dozens were still missing on Thursday after two boats sank in separate incidents in stormy weather off Greece.

The Hellenic Coast Guard said early on Thursday that the bodies recovered in an incident near the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea included those of 16 young African women and a boy.

They had been travelling in a dinghy carrying about 40 people — 13 of whom are believed to still be missing.

“The women who were rescued were in a full state of panic, so we are still trying to work out what happened,” coastguard spokesman Nikos Kokkalas told state television.

“The women were all from African countries, aged 20 upwards. There is a search on land as well as at sea and we hope that survivors made it to land.”

Meanwhile, more than 440 kilometres south-west, 80 migrants were rescued after their boat broke apart near cliffs on the island of Kythera, off the south-eastern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula, late on Wednesday.

The boat, which was believed to have been carrying 95 people, ran aground and sank near the port of Diakofti.

Some survivors made it to shore, and an operation involving vessels at sea and the fire service and police on land located 80 migrants from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

Sky News reported that witnesses saw the boat being smashed against rocks and people climbing up cliffs to “save themselves”.

“All the residents here went down to the harbour to try to help,” said local Martha Stathaki.

“We could see the boat smashing against the rocks and people climbing up those rocks to try to save themselves. It was an unbelievable 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. “Nobody could approach by sea, it was incredibly difficult.”

Rescuers assisted survivors by lowering ropes down the cliffs.

The survivors included seven women and 18 children, a coastguard spokeswoman told AFP.

A screen grab from a video by the Hellenic Coast Guard shows migrants waiting to be rescued after a shipwreck off the island of Kythera. AFP

About 15 people were still believed to be missing.

The deaths occurred amid a spat between Greece and Turkey over the safety of migrants at sea.

Athens accuses its neighbour of failing to stop smugglers active on its shoreline and even using migrants to apply political pressure on the EU.

“Once again, Turkey’s tolerance of gangs of ruthless traffickers has cost human lives,” Greek maritime minister Yiannis Plakiotakis said.

“As long as the Turkish coastguard does not prevent their activities, the traffickers cram unfortunate people, without safety measures, into boats that cannot withstand the weather conditions, putting their lives in mortal danger.”

Turkey denies the allegations and accuses Greece of carrying out reckless summary deportations — known as pushbacks.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Greece of “turning the Aegean Sea into a graveyard” and held up photographs of dead migrant children.

Most migrants reaching Greece travel from nearby Turkey, but smugglers have changed routes in recent months in an effort to avoid heavily patrolled waters around Greek islands near the Turkish coastline.

Updated: October 06, 2022, 11:46 AM