ATHENS (AFP): Greece’s coastguard on Thursday said it had recovered the bodies of 15 people in two separate migrant boat sinkings, with several more feared missing.
The bodies of 15 women of apparent African origin were recovered near the island of Lesbos after a dinghy believed to be carrying about 40 people sank east of the island during high winds, coastguard spokesman Nikos Kokkalas told state TV ERT.
There was no official toll yet from a second sinking south of the Peloponnese peninsula.
Kokkalas said nine other women had been rescued in the Lesbos incident, but another 14 people were believed to be missing.
“The women were utterly panicked,” he said.
A few hours earlier, the coastguard was alerted to a sailboat in distress near the island of Kythira, south of the Peloponnese peninsula. The sailboat believed to be carrying around 95 people ran aground and sank near the island port of Diakofti.
Some of the survivors made it to shore, and a combined operation including vessels at sea, and the fire service and police on land, had managed to locate 80 people.
Kokkalas said the sailboat had been “completely destroyed.”
Information on the asylum seekers’ nationalities in the Kythira incident was not immediately available.
Both operations were facing adverse wind conditions. In the Kythira area, winds were as high as 102 kilometres (63 miles) per hour, the coastguard said.
Greece has faced increased migration traffic this year, with smugglers often employing the longer and more perilous route south of the country, and sailing out from Lebanon instead of Turkey, to bypass patrols in the Aegean Sea and reach Italy.
Greece, Italy and Spain are among the countries of entry into the European Union used by people fleeing Africa and the Middle East in search of safety and better lives.
The coastguard has said it has rescued about 1,500 people in the first eight months of the year, up from fewer than 600 last year.
In December, at least 30 people perished in three separate migrant boat sinkings in the Aegean. Exact tallies are hard to keep as some bodies are never recovered or reach shore weeks later.
Greece has rejected persistent claims from rights groups that many more have been illegally pushed back to Turkey without being allowed to lodge asylum claims.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month said Greek “oppressive policies” against migrants were turning the Aegean into a “graveyard.”
Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi this week countered that Turkey is “violently pushing forward migrants to Greece, in violation of international law” and a 2016 migration agreement with the EU.