ISTANBUL -- About 58 people drowned when a fishing boat carrying migrants whom smugglers had promised refuge in Europe sank after hitting rocks off the coast of western Turkey, officials said yesterday.
Nine children were among the dead, according to Turkey's Dogan News Agency. Several dozen survivors, mostly from Iraq and Syria, were able to swim through the Aegean waters to shore, only 160 feet away.
Survivors had told authorities that some people were trapped below the deck of the submerged vessel, and divers tried to find them. Television footage showed several rescue vessels near the dim outline of the submerged boat, which lay just below the surface. Ambulances waited at the top of a cliff, but there were no indications that anyone else had survived.
The migrants had previously made their way to hotels in the city of Izmir, where smugglers agreed to take them to Britain. Authorities arrested two Turkish suspects in the smuggling operation, Turkey's TRT television reported.
It was not immediately clear when the boat sank, but many such vessels carrying migrants make the journey at night to avoid detection by authorities.
Migrants from Asia and Africa have long sought to reach Europe 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 and are staying in camps just across the border, and some countries are concerned that larger numbers of Syrians could try to reach Europe illegally.