Greece Launches Rescue Operation After Vessel Loaded With Migrants Sinks, Dozens Missing

Greek authorities are executing an extensive rescue operation after a vessel filled with migrants sank in the Aegean Sea. Three people have already been confirmed dead and dozens are still missing, though some have been successfully rescued.

The rescue effort was launched Tuesday night after the coast guard received word that a vessel transporting migrants had experienced engine failure and started to fill with water south of the island of Folegandros. A navy frigate joined the four coast guard vessels, eight merchant ships, three smaller private vessels and one military transport plane conducting the sea-and-air search, the coast guard said.

But some are beginning to worry about the chances of finding more survivors as more time passes since the vessel sank.

"Efforts will continue but in waters that are very cold and very deep the chances of finding anyone [alive] are decreasing by the hour," Coast Guard spokesman Nikos Kokkalas said. "Our fear is that most simply didn't manage to get off the boat and would have sunk with it to the bottom of the ocean."

Aegean Sea Rescue Mission
Greek authorities are executing an extensive rescue operation after a vessel laden with migrants sank in the Aegean Sea. Medical staff in a dinghy leave from the Aegean Sea island of Milos to Sikinos island, Greece, on May 25, 2020. Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Photo

The coast guard said 12 people, all believed to be from Iraq, were rescued from an inflatable dinghy off the island of Folegandros in the southern Cyclades, 180 kilometers (112 miles) southeast of Athens. The 11 men and one woman were taken to a hospital on the nearby island of Santorini as a precaution.

The bodies of three unidentified men were recovered from the sea.

The survivors said they had been on a larger boat that took on water and sank overnight. Most said there were originally 32 people on the boat, but one told authorities there were about 50.

"The survivors made it onto a dinghy that was tethered to the (bigger) vessel. Only two of them were wearing life jackets," Kokkalas told state-run ERT television. "We always presume the worst-case scenario, in this case, that 50 people were on the boat."

Greece is one of the most popular routes into the European Union for people fleeing conflict and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Most attempt to cross in dinghies from the Turkish shore to the nearby eastern Aegean Greek islands.

But with increased patrols and allegations of summary deportations back to Turkey for those who arrive, many have been attempting lengthier routes on larger vessels. Folegandros, one of the southern islands in the Cyclades, is not along a usual route for migrant smugglers.

Other vessels have bypassed the Greek islands and headed directly from Turkey to Italy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Coast Guard Vessel
The Greek coast guard is executing an extensive rescue operation after a vessel laden with migrants sank in the Aegean Sea. A Turkish Coast Guard vessel patrols the Aegean Sea, off the Turkish coast, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo