GREEK authorities conducted a search and rescue operation yesterday for dozens of people missing at sea east of the island of Karpathos after a boat reportedly carrying up to 80 migrants toward Italy sank during the night.
The coastguard said 29 men were rescued 61km off Karpathos, an island between Rhodes and Crete.
Two were plucked from the waves by an air force helicopter and flown to Karpathos, while the other 27 were picked up by a passing tanker and taken to the island of Kos.
The survivors – Afghani, Iraqi and Iranian – said there had been 60 to 80 people on the vessel. No further survivors had been located by late yesterday, although the search was continuing.
Those rescued said the boat had departed the Antalyan coastline in southern Turkey and was bound for Italy when they ran into trouble at night.
Strong winds and rough seas were complicating search and rescue efforts.
The most common sea route for asylum-seekers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa has been from Turkey to the Greek islands, but with increased Greekpatrols in the Aegean and persistent reports of new arrivals being summarily deported to Turkey without being allowed to claim asylum, many are now attempting the far longer and more dangerous route directly to Italy.
Greece denies carrying out illegal summary deportations of asylum-seekers.
In a separate incident in northern Greece – a region that is a key entry point for people crossing illegally from Turkey by land – a 52-year-old police officer was yesterday charged with attempted manslaughter with intent after two members of a group of migrants fleeing arrest were shot and injured.