At least 22 migrants, including four children, drowned on Monday after two vessels capsized off the eastern Aegean island of Samos, near Turkey, while many more migrants remained unaccounted for by late last night.
Rescue workers had recovered the bodies of 12 women, four children and six men by nightfall.
Another 36 migrants were rescued and around 10 were believed to be missing, according to the accounts of survivors who said around 65 people had been on the two boats.
Of the survivors, 23 are Somalian, four from Eritrea and nine from Syria, officials said. A young boy who was seriously injured when the boat he was in capsized was airlifted to Athens aboard a C-130 transport aircraft while four men were hospitalized on Samos with symptoms of hypothermia.
Of the dead, who are believed to have hailed from the same countries, four were found at sea and the rest were removed from the hold of one of the capsized boats, coast guard officials said. A pregnant woman clutching a baby were among the bodies pulled from the hold of the larger of the two boats, according to sources.
It was unclear what caused the vessels – a yacht and a dinghy – to overturn as weather conditions in the early hours on Monday were said to have been relatively good.
The alarm was sounded at around 4 a.m. by a Frontex vessel which spotted an overturned vessel and several migrants in the sea.
Two Hellenic Navy rescue helicopters and two coast guard vessels were dispatched for a rescue operation, which also included a navy warship, and several fishing boats assisted. A cruise liner was briefly enlisted too.
Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis expressed his condolences for the lost lives and appealed for additional European support. “Tragic occurrences like today’s make the need to forge a common European strategy to tackle the phenomenon of illegal immigration and to protect human life and dignity more pressing than ever,” he said.