Migrant boat sinks off Turkish Aegean coast, killing at least 22 people

Turkish officials say they have found the bodies of 22 people, including seven children, off Gokceada island.

ambulances parked by a coast guard boat
Turkish officials said the boat began sinking overnight and that many ambulances were standing by at the port of Kabatepe near Gokceada [Demiroren News Agency via AFP]

At least 22 people, including several children, have died after the rubber dinghy they were travelling on capsized off the Turkish island of Gokceada in the Aegean Sea.

“The Turkish coastguard found the bodies of 22 people including seven children,” the local governor’s office said in a statement on Friday.

Information on the victims’ nationalities has not yet been released.

Governor Ilhami Aktas told the state-run Anadolu Agency that the Turkish coastguard rescued two people from the sea off the town of Eceabat in Canakkale province, while two others were able to reach the shore by themselves,

Turkish officials said the boat began sinking overnight and that many ambulances were standing by at the port of Kabatepe near Gokceada. The search-and-rescue operation was also backed by one plane, two helicopters, one drone, 18 boats and 502 personnel.

The Turkish coastguard also said that it had rescued or intercepted several hundred people, including children, attempting to cross to Greece since the start of the week.

At least 3,129 deaths and disappearances have been recorded in the Mediterranean since 2017, making it the deadliest route for migrants and refugees, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Many migrants try to reach the Greek islands from Turkey’s western coasts to head to prosperous European Union countries, with many dying in the perilous sea crossing.

The issue of irregular migration is a thorn in relations between NATO members Turkey and Greece, who are already embroiled in longstanding disputes from exploratory drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean to the divided island of Cyprus.

Greece has also frequently accused Turkey of waving migrants through their joint border and at sea.

Ankara in turn has accused Athens of illegal pushbacks of migrant boats. In 2016, Turkey struck a deal with the EU to curb the influx of people seeking refuge in the EU in return for financial assistance and other incentives.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Athens in December, Turkey and Greece agreed to open a new page in their troubled relations and address their problems including irregular migration through dialogue.

The issue of irregular migration is likely to figure highly in talks when Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits Ankara in May.

Source: News Agencies