At least 17 migrants died and dozens more remain missing after two boats packed with more than 140 refugees capsized in separate incidents in Greece. The sinkings are the deadliest in recent years and the tragedies add to rising tensions between NATO allies Greece and Turkey.
Mayor Stratos Harhalakis described the tragedy as he scrambled to the site with rescue crews.
“It was terrible,” he said. “I alone saw five people drowning before me. The weather conditions were fierce. The smuggling vessel broke in half from the collision… and ferocious waves battered dozens of migrants as rescue crews tried to haul them out of the sea with cranes.”
Had they landed just 50 meters west or east of that point, Harhalakis said, they would have all been spared.
Authorities managed to save 80 of the estimated 95 migrants on a sailboat. Nearly 20 of them were minors, but rescue crews, aided by air force helicopters, continued to scour the sea to locate more than a dozen believed missing.
Similar searches were ongoing off the coast of Lesbos, on the easternmost rim of Greece, where 16 migrant women and a baby boy died when the flimsy rubber raft they were crammed into crashed on a rocky tip of the island’s shores.
Ten of the migrants were rescued and taken to a local hospital, while the bodies of 17 women were taken to the island's morgue. And the rest of the estimated 40, who were in the rubber boat — mostly women and children — remain missing.
Authorities say both boats originated from Turkey. No life vests were available on either boat and neither was equipped with lifeboats.
The tragedy, among the worst of the so-called Mediterranean crossings that migrants have used for decades to sneak into Europe, has Greece lashing out at its rival, neighboring Turkey.
At Least 17 Migrants Killed, Dozens Missing in Twin Shipwrecks in Greece