Greece’s coastguard says dozens of people are believed to be missing after a boat sank off the coast of the island of Folegandros.
A large search and rescue operation was launched early on Wednesday after the boat sank 112 miles (180 km) south-east of Athens. The coastguard said 12 people, all believed to be from Iraq, had been rescued and transported to the nearby island of Santorini.
Survivors said there were originally 32 people on the boat, but one told authorities there were about 50.
The coastguard said four coastguard vessels, two helicopters from the navy and air force, a military transport plane, five passing ships and three private vessels were participating in the search and rescue operation.
“The survivors made it on to a dinghy that was tethered to the boat. Only two of them were wearing life jackets,” coastguard spokesman Nikos Kokkalas told state-run ERT television.
“We always presume the worst-case scenario, in this that 50 people were on the boat.”
The coastguard said the operation began on Tuesday night after it received information that a vessel carrying migrants had suffered engine failure and began taking on water south of Folegandros.
Greece is one of the most popular routes into the European Union for people fleeing conflict and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Most attempt to cross in dinghies from the Turkish shore to the nearby eastern Aegean Greek islands.
But with increased patrols and allegations of summary deportations back to Turkey for those who arrive, many have been attempting lengthier routes on larger vessels. Folegandros, one of the southern islands in the Cyclades, is not along a usual route for migrant smugglers.
Other vessels have bypassed the Greek islands and headed directly from the Turkish coast to Italy.