A yacht and a dinghy crammed with immigrants trying to enter Greece capsized Monday in the eastern Aegean Sea, leaving at least 18 dead, including three children, and potentially several more missing in the third such fatal accident in the country this year.
The yacht and a dinghy carrying dozens of immigrants had been trying to enter Greece illegally when they overturned before dawn off the coast of the island of Samos near the Turkish coast. It was not immediately clear what caused the overloaded craft to capsize.
The Greek coast guard said 36 people – 32 men, three women and a child – were rescued, and two of them – a man and a child – were airlifted to a hospital on the mainland.
Coast guard officials recovered the bodies of two women, a man and a boy from the sea, and later found a further 14 bodies – including two children – inside the yacht after it was towed to Samos.
The nationalities of the migrants were not immediately known.
Survivors told the coast guard between 60 and 65 people had been on the 10-meter (30-foot) yacht and the two-meter (six-foot) dinghy that had set off from Turkey.
“We can’t give a precise number of missing people with any certainty,” Coast guard spokesman Nikos Lagadianos told The Associated Press earlier, before the overturned yacht was searched.
Coast guard vessels, fishing boats and two search and rescue helicopters were combing the area for survivors or bodies. A nearby cruise ship helped for several hours in the morning before being cleared to continue its journey.
Despite the deep financial crisis that brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy four years ago, the country remains a major entry point for people from poor or war-ravaged parts of Asia and Africa seeking a better life in the 28-nation European Union.
Fatal accidents are frequent as migrants risk the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey. Before Monday’s incident, 21 people had drowned in similar incidents since the beginning of the year.
Over the weekend, the Greek coast guard rescued about 250 immigrants from the sea.