Sinking of sailboat carrying migrants kills 11 –

ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Coastguard divers searched the hull of a submerged sailboat looking for passengers possibly trapped inside on Friday after the vessel struck rocks and sank off the southern coast from Greece, killing at least 11 people.

The Greek Coast Guard said 90 people – 52 men, 11 women and 27 children – were rescued overnight and early Friday morning from a rocky islet some 235 kilometers (145 miles) south of Athens, near of the isolated island of Antikythera.

Turkey-based smugglers increasingly packed sailboats with migrants and refugees and sent them across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, avoiding heavily patrolled Greek islands.

“We are extremely saddened by reports that at least seven people lost their lives in a shipwreck north of Antikythera,” tweeted the Greek office of the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, before the Divers do help recover four other bodies. “People need safe alternatives to these perilous crossings.”

The Coast Guard released a video of the rescue operation. It showed people put in life rafts and transferred to a patrol boat. The survivors were brought to the port of Piraeus, near Athens.

In another incident on Friday, Greek police arrested three people on charges of smuggling and detained 92 migrants after a yacht ran aground in the southern Peloponnese region.

A search operation also continued for a third day in the central Aegean Sea, where a boat carrying migrants sank near the island of Folegandros. Thirteen people were rescued and survivors reported that at least 17 others were missing. Authorities said the passengers were from Iraq.

Greece is a popular entry point into the European Union for people fleeing conflict and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. But arrivals have fallen sharply in the past two years after Greece extended a wall on Turkey’s border and started intercepting inbound boats carrying migrants and refugees, a tactic criticized by human rights groups.

More than 116,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Mediterranean to reach EU countries this year as of December 19, according to UNHCR. The agency said 55% had traveled illegally to Italy, 35% to Spain and 7% to Greece, with the rest heading to Malta and Cyprus. ___

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