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August 23, 2014

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Greece: Smuggling boats capsize, 22 migrants drown

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Hellenic Coast Guard / AP

In this photo released by the Hellenic Coast Guard, divers search a yacht used to transport immigrants illegally that overturned in a fatal accident at the port of Vathy on the Greek island of Samos, on Monday, May 5, 2014.

ATHENS, Greece — A yacht and a dinghy crammed with immigrants trying to sneak into Greece capsized Monday in the eastern Aegean Sea, leaving at least 22 dead and several more missing in one of the deadliest such accidents in Greek waters in recent years.

The vessels had been trying to enter Greece illegally when they overturned before dawn off the island of Samos near the Turkish coast. The boats were overloaded but it was not immediately clear what caused them to capsize. It was Greece's third fatal migrant boat disaster this year.

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. It identified the survivors as 23 Somalis, nine Syrians and three Eritreans, the coast guard said. The child's nationality and the nationalities of those who died weren't immediately known.

Coast guard officials recovered the bodies of two women, a man and a boy from the sea, and later found a further 18 bodies — including three children — inside the yacht after it was towed to Samos.

Survivors told the coast guard that 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," Coast guard spokesman Nikos Lagadianos told The Associated Press before the overturned yacht was searched.

Coast guard vessels, fishing boats and two search and rescue helicopters combed the area for survivors or bodies. A nearby cruise ship helped for several hours 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. At least 21 people died and six are still missing after a similar accident in December 2012.

Over the weekend, the Greek coast guard rescued about 250 immigrants from the sea.

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