Roundup: Greek officials express sorrow over migrant boat sinking, rescue operation continues

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ATHENS, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- Greek government expressed sorrow over the 12 people who perished in the Ionian Sea in western Greece on Saturday after a boat carrying migrants sank off the island group of Paxoi.

Twelve bodies have been retrieved, 21 people have been rescued, including three in serious condition. A search and rescue operation to locate unclear number of missing still continued, according to an e-mailed press release issued by the Greek Coast Guard.

Approximately 50 people were on board when the boat capsized about 13 nautical miles southwest of Paxoi in undetermined circumstances, news site has reported, citing Coast Guard sources.

"We are all devastated by today's tragedy. It highlights the necessity to crack down on the inhumane human smuggling networks operating inside and outside Europe," Deputy Citizen Protection Minister responsible for migration George Koumoutsakos said in a statement to AMNA.

It added that Greece will soon suggest an initiative on European level to tackle the challenge.

Greek Shipping Minister Ioannis Plakiotakis expressed his sorrow over the loss of lives on his social media account, while praised the efforts of rescuers.

"Their great efforts saved 21 lives. The operation continues," said Plakiotakis.

The Greek Communist party KKE said in a press release that "Today's tragedy with so many refugees and migrants who were trying to leave the country, lost off Paxoi, brings deep sorrow for the victims and anger for those guilty. It proves once again that the tragedy of the thousands displaced is endless."

Six Coast Guard vessels, one Navy helicopter and two air force helicopters were assisting the operation, which is being conducted in good weather conditions, according to the Coast Guard's press release.

Survivors who have been transferred to nearby towns told authorities that there were no minors on the boat and passengers were not wearing life jackets, local news site reported.

Municipal authorities in the town of Preveza have been mobilized to accommodate the people.

The nationalities of survivors and victims have not been identified.

Saturday's tragedy is the deadliest occurring in Greece in recent months. Hundreds have perished in the Aegean Sea, while attempting to reach Greece from Turkey among the over a million people who entered Europe via the Aegean since 2015.

Cases of boat capsizes in western Greece are rare compared to the Aegean.

After the closure of borders along the Balkan route and the EU-Turkey agreement launched in spring 2016 aimed to stem the influx, arrivals decreased dramatically before picking up again in recent months.

In 2019, according to UNHCR data, Greece received a total of 74,482 arrivals, significantly increased from the 50,508 recorded in 2018. The majority of the arrivals (59,457) last year were from sea, while 14,891 were land arrivals. Enditem

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