ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Five children are among the 22 people confirmed dead in the sinking of a sailboat that had been carrying migrants, Greece’s coast guard said Thursday, while a search-and-rescue operation continued for 34 other people still reported missing.
Only 12 people, all men, have been found alive since the sailboat sank early Tuesday in notoriously treacherous waters between the islands of Evia and Andros, east of the Greek capital.
The coast guard said two of the 12 survivors were arrested on suspicion of belonging to the smuggling gang that had organized the voyage from Turkey. It said one was suspected of skippering the vessel, and the other of assisting him. Both faced charges of belonging to a criminal organization and causing a shipwreck.
Most survivors were found on an uninhabited islet, and told authorities they had been on a sailboat carrying about 68 people that set sail from Izmir on the Turkish coast. They said the boat capsized and sank in rough seas. The initial rescue operation was conducted in gale-force winds in the Kafireas Strait between the two islands.
The coast guard said Thursday that a total of 22 bodies had been retrieved from the sea, including five children — three boys and two girls — and six women.
It was the latest in a series of recent deadly shipwrecks of boats carrying migrants through Greek seas.
A separate search and rescue operation was being conducted in the eastern Aegean off the island of Samos, which lies near the Turkish coast, for seven people still missing after a dinghy reportedly carrying 12 people capsized on Monday. Four people, all Palestinians, were rescued Monday and one body was recovered on Tuesday.
Thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa, Asia and the Middle East attempt to enter the European Union through Greece each year.
Most make the short but often perilous crossing from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands in often unseaworthy inflatable dinghies. Others opt to circumvent Greece in overcrowded sailboats and yachts heading straight to Italy.
At least 27 people drowned in two separate shipwrecks last month. In one, 18 people died when a boat that had set sail from Turkey sank off the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos. In the other, a yacht carrying about 100 people sank in a gale, killing at least nine and leaving six others missing.
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