A fishing boat carrying dozens of migrants have capsized and sank off the southern coast of Greece on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people. A large search and rescue operation was launched in the area.
Authorities said 104 people have been rescued so far following the nighttime incident some 75 kilometers (46 miles) southwest of Greece’s southern Peloponnese region.
The Greek coast guard said that four of the survivors were hospitalized with symptoms of hypothermia. It was unclear how many passengers might remain missing at sea after 17 bodies were recovered.
Six coast guard vessels, a navy frigate, a military transport plan, an air force helicopter, several private vessels and a drone from the European Union border protection agency, Frontex were taking part in the ongoing search.
The Italy–bound boat is believed to have sailed from the Tobruk area in eastern Libya. The Italian coast guard first alerted Greek authorities and Frontex about the approaching vessel on Tuesday.
Smugglers are increasingly taking larger boats into international waters off the Greek mainland to try to avoid local coast guard patrols.
On Sunday, 90 migrants on a U.S.-flagged yacht were rescued in the area after they made a distress call.
Also Wednesday, Greece’s port police said a sailboat in distress carrying about 80 migrants off Crete was rescued by a coastguard patrol and towed to port.
Greece along with Italy and Spain have long been the main landing points for the tens of thousands of people seeking to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East.
Greece is also facing an increase of crossing attempts from Turkey on southern routes near the Cyclades islands and toward the Peloponnese peninsula, hoping to avoid patrols in the northern Aegean Sea.
Rescue operations are common, but last month the Greek government came under international pressure over video footage reportedly showing the forceful expulsion of migrants who were set adrift at sea.
Greece and other EU member states on the south and southeastern rim of the bloc say they are being unfairly tasked with managing arrivals of undocumented migrants.