21 migrants drown in sinking off Greek islands

ATHENS: At least 21 people died in two separate incidents of boats smuggling migrants or refugees sinking off two Greek islands overnight into Friday. Dozens survived, and a search and rescue operation was underway for more potential survivors.

In the first incident, a wooden boat carrying 48 people sank in the early hours off the small islet of Farmakonissi in the eastern Aegean. Forty of the passengers managed to make it to shore, while authorities rescued one girl and recovered seven bodies from the sea.

A few hours later, a wooden sailboat carrying an undetermined number of people sank off the islet of Kalolimnos, to the south of Farmakonissi.

 The coast guard rescued 26 people and recovered 14 bodies, while coast guard vessels, a helicopter and private boats were searching for survivors. Authorities said the survivors' estimates of how many people had originally been on board varied from about 40 to 70, so it was unclear how many people were missing.

Greece has become the main gateway for people fleeing war and poverty trying to reach the European Union. More than 800,000 entered Greece last year, mostly using unseaworthy boats to reach Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast. Hundreds have died in the attempt.


At least eight migrants drown in sinking off Greek island

At least eight migrants including two children drowned when a wooden boat carrying them capsised north of the Greek island of Kalolimnos early on Friday, a coastguard official said, as the refugee flow towards Europe continues despite the winter cold.

"Eight bodies have been recovered and 26 have been rescued and taken to the island," a Greek coastguard official said. "They were on a wooden sailboat. We do not yet have a clear picture of how many were on board."

A search and rescue operation was ongoing off Kalolimnos, a small island in the southeastern Aegean Sea close to Turkey's coast, assisted by a helicopter and other vessels, the official said.

It was not clear why the vessel capsised, the official said.

Fleeing war, thousands of mainly Syrian refugees have braved rough seas this year to make the short but precarious journey from Turkey to Greek islands, from which most continue to mainland Greece and northward into wealthier western Europe.

Winter conditions make the journey even more dangerous.