Dramatic rescues as boats sink off Greece; at least 15 dead

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KYTHIRA, Greece (AP) — Residents of a Greek island have pulled shipwrecked migrants to safety on steep cliffs in dramatic rescues after two boats sank in Greek waters, killing at least 17 and killings. dozens missing.

The Coast Guard said 16 of the bodies were young African women while one was a young man. They were all recovered near the eastern island of Lesbos after a dinghy carrying around 40 people sank. Ten women were rescued, while 13 other migrants were missing, coast guard officials said.

“The women who were rescued were in a state of complete panic, so we are still trying to figure out what happened,” coastguard spokesman Nikos Kokkalas told state television. “The women were all from African countries, aged 20 and over. … There is a search on land as well as at sea and we hope the survivors have made it ashore.”

The second rescue effort was launched several hundred kilometers (miles) west off the island of Kythira, where a sailboat struck rocks and sank. Kokkalas said 80 people had been rescued while searches continued for up to 15 people still missing.

With winds in the area reaching 70 km/h (45 mph), fire rescuers and local Kythira volunteers lowered the ropes to help migrants scale the cliffs on the seafront.

Survivors clinging to ropes were pulled safely up steep cliffs while others were tossed about by the waves as they awaited their turn on tiny rocky areas at the bottom.

“All the residents here have come down to the port to try to help,” local resident Martha Stathaki told The Associated Press.

“We could see the boat crashing against the rocks and people climbing over those rocks to try to save themselves. It was an incredible show.

Kythira is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of Turkey and on a route often used by smugglers to bypass Greece and head straight for Italy.

The deaths came amid a heated row between Greece and Turkey over the safety of migrants at sea, with Athens accusing its neighbor of failing to arrest smugglers active on its coastline and even of using migrants to exert force. political pressure on the European Union.

“Once again, Turkey’s tolerance of ruthless trafficking gangs has cost human lives,” Greek Navy Minister Yannis Plakiotakis said.

“Until the Turkish Coast Guard prevents their activities, the traffickers will cram the unfortunates, without safety measures, into boats that cannot withstand the weather conditions, putting their lives in mortal danger.”

Turkey denies the allegations and has publicly accused Greece of carrying out reckless summary expulsions, known as pushbacks.

Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Greece of “turning the Aegean Sea into a graveyard” and held up photographs of dead migrant children.

Most migrants arriving in Greece travel from neighboring Turkey, but smugglers have changed routes in recent months to avoid the heavily patrolled waters around the Greek islands near the Turkish coast. ___ Full coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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