61 dead after migrant boat sinks off Turkey

Fri, Sep 7, 2012, 01:00

AHMETBEYLI, Turkey – At least 61 migrants including Palestinians and Syrians, more than half of them children, died after their overcrowded boat sank off Turkey’s western Aegean coast yesterday, officials said.

Tahsin Kurtbeyoglu, governor of the coastal district of Menderes in Izmir province, told Reuters an initial investigation showed the small vessel sank around dawn due to overcrowding.

Its destination was unclear but the small Turkish town of Ahmetbeyli from where it set out is only a few kilometres from the Greek island of Samos. Greece is a common entry point for migrants trying to get into the European Union.

“The total death toll is 61, including 12 men, 18 women, 28 children and three babies,” the governor’s office in Izmir said in a statement. Turkish media said the reason the death toll was so high was because the women and children were in a locked compartment in the lower section of the vessel, although there was no official confirmation of this.

Mr Kurtbeyoglu said 46 people had so far been rescued, including the ship’s Turkish captain and assistant, who had been placed under arrest. He said there were no bodies left on the boat and he did not expect the death toll to rise. The Izmir governor’s office said the survivors were Palestinian and Syrian nationals and that they had been taken to Ahmetbeyli for health checks. Two people were admitted to hospital.

Turkish media said there were also Iraqis on the boat, although that could not be confirmed.

Turkey’s position as a bridge from Asia to Europe, as well as its wealth compared with neighbouring states, has long made it both a destination and a transit point for migrants from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. – (Reuters)