At Least 22 Drown as Overcrowded Boats Capsize off Greece

ATHENS, Greece -- A yacht and a dinghy crammed with immigrants trying to enter Greece capsized Monday, leaving at least 22 dead.

The victims included four children. It was one of the deadliest such incidents in the country's waters in recent years.

The vessels had been trying to enter Greece illegally when they overturned before dawn off the coast of the island of Samos in the eastern Aegean Sea.

It was not immediately clear what caused the overloaded craft to capsize.

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. The survivors were identified as 23 Somalis, nine Syrians and three Eritreans, the coast guard said.

Image: 18 dead after capsize of two boats full of migrants off Greek coast
A crane lifts a yacht after two boats carrying migrants capsized, at Malagari port on Samos Island, Greece, May 5. STELIOS DEMERTZIS / EPA

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 between 60 and 65 people had been on the 30-foot yacht and the six-foot dinghy that had set off from Turkey. It remained unclear Monday afternoon whether other people were missing.

Coast guard vessels, fishing boats and two search and rescue helicopters were combing the area for survivors or bodies. A nearby cruise ship helped for several hours before 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.

Before Monday's incident, 21 people had drowned in similar incidents since the beginning of the year.

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

- The Associated Press