BODRUM, Turkey (AP) — Six Syrian migrants, including an infant, drowned off the Turkish coast Tuesday as they tried to reach a Greek island, a rescuer said, underscoring the deadly risks taken by migrants making even short crossings to Europe in overcrowded smugglers’ boats.
Three more migrants survived for hours in the motorboat’s overturned hull, breathing air trapped in a pocket, before being rescued by divers, the emergency worker said.
Those who drowned were attempting perhaps the safest, shortest sea crossing in the risky journey to Europe, for the Greek island of Kos is only four kilometers (2.5 miles) from Turkey at its closest point.
Turkish coast guards unloaded five body bags at the harbor in the western tourist town of Bodrum as the rescued migrants, one man clutching his head in his hands, sat on the wharf. A rescue team later found the drowned infant’s body, said a member of the Bodrum Sea Rescue Association, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by coast guard officials to talk about the rescue.
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The Turkish divers pulled a child and two men out alive from a sealed area of the capsized boat, a 9-meter (30-foot) motorboat, the rescue official said. Medical staff carried a wailing young boy, an oxygen mask around his neck, and a man to ambulances.
It wasn’t the only rescue Tuesday in the Aegean Sea.
About 20 other migrants were picked up by Turkish authorities and taken to the nearby town of Turgutreis. It was not clear what boat they had been on.
A Doctors Without Borders medical team heading for the Greek island of Leros chanced across a boat carrying 40 migrants, some of whom were in the sea, picked them up and took them to Kos. Men hugged and kissed one another as the group, which included young children, reached land.
“It shows that there is a need to increase the capacities in the search and rescue operations here,” Doctors Without Borders field coordinator Elisa Galli said.
Yet the number of migrants attempting perilous sea crossings to Europe continues to climb despite the risks.
Greece’s coast guard rescued 576 migrants in 23 search-and-rescue operations off the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Agathonisi and Kos in the last 24 hours alone.
The U.N. refugee agency reported Tuesday that the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece by sea this year is now over 158,450, including over 50,000 people in July alone. That monthly number is greater than the 43,500 who arrived in Greece for all of 2014, it said.
UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters in Geneva that last week alone, nearly 21,000 people arrived in Greece.
Greek authorities said Tuesday they are planning to use a ferry currently docked at the island of Kos to transport up to 2,500 migrants to a northern port.
The Greek Merchant Marine Ministry said the Eleftherios Venizelos is expected to leave Kos by Wednesday morning to travel to Thessaloniki, from where the migrants can continue their odyssey toward asylum in wealthier European countries, travelling through the Balkans.
The ferry, which has served as a temporary migrant screening center, has about 1,700 people on board and will pick up hundreds more from other islands on the way.
Italy, meanwhile, said Saturday that 103,000 migrants have been rescued and brought to its shores this year.
In all, the U.N. says about 264,500 people have crossed the sea this year, trying to reach Europe. That compares to 219,000 for all of 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.
IOM estimates almost 2,350 people have died this year in those sea journeys.
Associated Press Writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this report.