IMAGE: Turkish police, coast guard stand next to body bags.
Reuters
A Turkish policeman and a coast guard officer stand next to body bags on Seferihisar port near the western Turkish coastal city of Izmir on Monday. At least 43 were feared dead after a boat of illegal immigrants sunk off the coast.
updated 12/10/2007 5:37:26 PM ET 2007-12-10T22:37:26

A boat carrying illegal migrants sank off Turkey’s Aegean coast and at least 43 died, an official said Monday.

The 50-foot boat sank in rough weather late Saturday off the coast of Seferihisar, a town south of the city of Izmir, said Gov. Orhan Sefik Guldibi. Six migrants were rescued and hospitalized, mostly for shock.

Citing survivors, the Coast Guard said a total of 85 people were on board.

Dogan news agency said earlier that 51 people had died, but a local official disputed that report. Ercan Dogu, an official from the Izmir governor’s office, said a miscommunication between police and paramilitary police had resulted in conflicting fatality reports.

Dogu said a final count late Monday afternoon showed 43 dead, including two women.

“We are trying to keep our hopes alive but the possibility of more survivors is diminishing,” Guldibi said.

“Boats and helicopters are searching for more migrants in the sea,” Guldibi said. “Because of the strong wind, we think the bodies should be closer to the coast than where this boat sank. But they are searching far off the coast as well.”

The survivors, who stayed afloat by wearing inflated inner tubes around their waists, swam to shore late Sunday and shouted for help, according to Guldibi. Residents heard their shouts and called the police.

The migrants were mostly Palestinians, Somalis and Iraqis, Guldibi said.

The passengers met up in Izmir Saturday evening and were taken to the coast from where they boarded the boat in the dark. The vessel capsized around two hours after setting sail, Guldibi said.

Strong winds and rough seas hampered rescue work, private NTV television reported. Rescuers were also searching areas close to the Greek island of Chios for bodies, the report said.

Thousands of immigrants from Asia and Africa enter Turkey illegally on their way to European Union countries in search of jobs and a better life. Smugglers often take the migrants from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands on fragile and overcrowded boats, and accidents are common.

The EU, which Turkey wants to join, wants the country to crack down on illegal immigration.

EU-member Greece, which has an 8,000-mile coastline dotted with thousands of islands, has accused Turkish authorities of not doing enough to halt the flow of illegal migrants.

Turkey has increased patrols along its Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, but boats still get through.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Rescuers pull bodies from Aegean Sea

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