Dozens of people have been feared to have died off the coast of Greece after their boat sank while trying to make the dangerous crossing from Turkey.
Efforts by Greece's navy and air force to rescue up to 50 people who went down with the vessel in the stormy waters off Rhodes had shown no signs of progress by late Wednesday, coast guard officials said.
There were around 80 people on board, according to the 29 men who were rescued at around 5 am, a coast guard official said. Up to 50 people are still missing. The boat, which was en route to Italy from Antalya in southern Turkey, became an increasingly popular passage for those trying to get to Europe, sank 38 nautical miles south of Rhodes in seas whipped by gale force winds. Coast guard officials described the shipwreck as being in international waters.
The Greek shipping minister, Ioannis Plakiotakis, said the Hellenic navy, the air force, coast guard patrol boats, as well as commercial ships sailing in the southern Aegean had all joined the search and rescue operation. As of 5 am a Super Puma helicopter had scoured the seas, but Nikos Kokalas, the coast guard spokesman, said efforts had been severely hampered by winds of up to 30 mph.
Plakiotakis said in a statement that protecting human life is a daily concern and our absolute priority. More than 6,000 people have been saved in 145 search and rescue operations over the last two years. The centre right government of prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has faced heavy criticism for expelling asylum seekers from Greek territory in violation of the Geneva conventions.
Although Greek authorities have denied conducting pushbacks, a growing mass of evidence shows that the practice is taking place at the EU border state's land and sea frontiers. The policies on migrants in Greece are tough but fair, according to the Athens administration. Turkey has been criticised for allowing people to leave its shores despite reaching a multi-billion euro deal with the EU in March 2016 to stop the flows in return for EU aid.
There are 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Over the past year, the influx of Europe-bound migrants to Greece has dropped dramatically, but this week's crossing shows the lengths people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa are willing to endure to find refuge in the west.