ATHENS – After three boats carrying refugees and migrants to Greece capsized and sank in three incidents three days apart, killing at least 30, three people allegedy involved in human trafficking were charged with murder for trying to take them from Turkey to Italy, 16 dying in that tragedy.
The usual route of taking refugees and migrants to Greek islands is being bypassed more after the Greek Coast Guard and European Union border patrol FRONTEX stepped up monitoring in the Aegean.
The suspects were among 63 people rescued following the tragedy Dec. 24 when the vessel carrying overturned near the Greek island of Paros. They were charged with causing an accident at sea, intentional manslaughter and membership in a criminal organization, the Coast Guard said.
More than 160 were rescued in the three sinkings that showed people continuing to risk and lose their lives in a desperate bid to reach an EU country although the bloc has closed its borders to them.
Human Smugglers are now seeking to avoid Greek islands near the Turkish coast which are heavily patrolled by Coast Guard and FRONTEX, noted Kathimerini about the change in tactics.
Merchant Marine Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis described the smugglers as “ruthless killers” who are cramming people onto unseaworthy boats and failing to hand out life vests, even to underage passengers.
The voyages are in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal between the EU and Turkey which allows human traffickers to keep sending them without facing any penalties while Greece has been accused by activists, human rights groups and Turkey of pushing back refugees and migrants, denied by the New Democracy government.
An estimated 11,900 refugees and migrants crammed onto 120 yachts or sailboats are believed to have made it from Turkey to Italy via Greece this year, the paper said, despite the danger.
In the Paros incident, it was a small catamaran that sent under, the vessel said to be under 26 feet long and carrying at least 79 passengers but it was uncertain what happened.
“There weren’t any rocks there, so we don’t know how the wreck happened,” Ilias Pantasoulas, a local fisherman who was among the first to reach the wreck, told the paper, adding the weather was good and the sea calm.
Survivors have said that the engine suddenly stopped working, possibly causing the passengers to panic and accidentally capsize the boat as they rushed to save themselves, the repoert added.
That happened a day after 11 drowned near Antikythera off the southeastern Peloponnese, when the sailing boat they were in, crammed with more than 100 people, hit rocks near an islet that 90 passengers were able to swim to, the paper also said.
The day before that, 13 people were rescued near Folegandros in a similar incident and at least three people dead although the toll could be higher if unknown because the vessel was carrying between 38 to 58 passengers.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)