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6 Sep, 2012 14:43

Boat tragedy off Turkey coast: 61 refugees dead

At least 61 people, including women and children, are reported to have drowned when a fishing boat carrying up to a hundred illegal migrants sank off the coast of western Turkey. So far 46 people have been rescued, local media reports.

"The total death toll is 61, including 12 men, 18 women, 28 children and three babies," the governor's office in Izmir said in a statement. Those killed were trapped below deck on the submerged vessel.The passengers, believed to be mostly from Syria and Iraq, had apparently been promised passage to Europe by people smugglers. Prior to that the group of migrants stayed in the city of Izmir, where smugglers reportedly agreed to take them to Britain. The boat's captain and his assistant survived the sinking and have both been arrested, Turkish state television reported.According to the main theory the small vessel hit rocks due to poor visibility (most such illegal vessels sail at night so as to avoid detection) and sank some 50 meters off the coast. The survivors, mostly those who stayed on the deck rather than below, managed to swim ashore.Turkey's location, which bridges Asia and Europe, attracts flows of refugees from as far afield as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, trying to use it as a transshipment point on their way to European states.