At least 58 people have died when a boat carrying more than 100 refugees sank off the western Turkish coast, officials have told the Anatolia news agency.
Dozens of survivors were able to swim through the Aegean waters to the shore, just 160 feet away, after the accident on Thursday. “The death toll from the accident is 58,” said Ardahan Totuk, acting governor of Izmir province. Forty-three bodies were recovered from the sea and 15 others were retrieved from the boat locker, he added.
The boat’s captain and his mate, as well as dozens of illegal immigrants, were rescued alive, he said. Tahsin Kurtbeyoglu, a local administrator in Izmir province in western Turkey, confirmed the toll to Turkish media.
“We know that a fishing vessel carrying 102 illegal immigrants, mostly from Syria and Iraq … hit the rocks off the coast of Izmir, which is very close to the Greek islands. Many of the immigrants on the boat were women and children,” reported Al Jazeera’s Ozgun Levent in Istanbul.
The boat set sail from Ahmetbeyli, a Turkish town on the western coast of Turkey close to Greek islands, and hit the rocks, officials said.
Al Jazeera’s Levent reported that some of the 48 immigrants who swam to the shore told rescue officials that they were attempting to make their way to the United Kingdom. They said that they had entered into deals with people smugglers based in Izmir in order to make the journey.
The survivors said several people had been trapped below the deck of the submerged vessel, and divers launched an operation to try to find them. The survivors were all on the deck, rather than below with other members of their group.
Authorities have arrested two Turkish suspects in the smuggling operation, Turkey’s TRT television reported. Immigrants from Asia and Africa have long sought to reach Europe illegally by passing through Turkey, and their desperate efforts have occasionally ended in disaster. Each year, thousands try to sail to Greek islands from Turkish soil in rickety boats.
Turkey is now hosting 80,000 Syrians who have fled the civil war in their country, with most staying in camps near the border. Some countries are concerned that larger numbers of Syrians could try to reach Europe illegally.
In July, Greece said that it was quadrupling the number of guards at its border with Turkey and boosting other defense in part because of worries about a potential influx.