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AT LEAST 23 refugees drowned in Greek waters this weekend, adding to the roughly 20 who have already died in the region so far this year.
The first of two incidents on Saturday occurred in the morning when a boat carrying around 50 people sank near the island of Paxos off the west coast of the Greek mainland.
Greece’s coastguard confirmed that 12 people lost their lives when the boat began to take on water. At least 17 people remain missing.
According to Aegean Boat Report, an NGO that records migrant boat crossings in the Aegean, Mediterranean and Ionian seas near Greece, the refugees “were most likely heading towards Italy when their boat took in water and sank.”
The charity added that “six coastguard ships, a helicopter and at least four merchant ships” were searching for survivors. No update on the rescue mission had been given by the time the Star went to press.
A second tragedy occurred on Saturday evening when a boat carrying 19 people capsized in waters near the Turkish town of Cesme, killing 11, including eight children. Turkey’s coastguard said it rescued four people and four others managed to swim to the shore.
Meanwhile, various vessels of the civil refugee rescue fleet have rescued a further 237 people in the central Mediterranean since the Star last reported on their activities on Thursday, when an NGO witnessed refugees in distress at sea being pushed back to Libya by the war-torn country’s EU-funded coastguard.
The crew of the Open Arms, a ship operated by a Spanish charity of the same name, rescued a total of 118 people, including pregnant women, children and babies, in two missions on Friday.
The last mission was carried while “a Libyan patrol [boat] in a threatening attitude watched us closely,” the charity said.
German charity Sea Watch, now carrying 119 rescued people on board its ship the Sea Watch 3, denounced the passivity of Malta’s military at the weekend after pulling 42 people from an unseaworthy dinghy in the country’s search and rescue zone on Friday morning.
The charity said Malta’s authorities had know of the presence of the dinghy in its territorial waters since Thursday afternoon, when the activist network Alarm Phone reported the boat’s position to them.
“Armed Forces Malta and the Maltese government,” the charity tweeted after the rescue, “your inaction kills.”
Malta’s navy displayed further indifference to the plight of refugees on Saturday night when the crew received reports of another boat in distress in the island nation’s waters.
“Malta told us they would take over,” Sea Watch said on Saturday.
“Past events make us doubt that Malta would rescue those people, so we changed our course towards the last known position.
“It took us eight hours to arrive at the scene, where we started to hand out life vests to everyone.
“The passengers who had been at sea for days told us they had seen two ships passing and ignoring them.
“We realised there was an armed forces Malta ship standing by for three hours already.
“The armed forces told [us] they would embark the people, which took them two hours.
“This dangerous behaviour we witnessed in the middle of the night is even worse knowing there are numerous maritime distress cases in the Mediterranean this week. There is no time to waste.
“The Maltese armed forces never [took] any other survivors from our ship. All people rescued by Sea Watch 3 in three separate events throughout January 9 and 10 are currently on board and still await a port of safety in Europe, including those rescued in the Maltese [search and rescue] zone.”
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