24 killed in migrant boat disaster off northern Istanbul coast
ISTANBUL Photos: Hürriyet / Eyüp Serbest - Fırat Alkaç
A ship carries out a search and rescue operation after a boat sank in the Bosphorus Strait, near Istanbul Nov. 3. The accident took place near Rumeli Feneri, a small village at the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea.
Some 24 migrants have died after a boat carrying refugees capsized off Istanbul’s northern coast in the early hours of Nov. 3.
Six people have been rescued by fishermen and Turkish coast guards were dispatched to the area, while 24 bodies have been pulled from the sea near the site of the incident, Turkish Coast Guard officials said in a statement late Nov. 3, adding that 13 people were still missing.
The boat was carrying 42 Afghan refugees and a Turkish smuggler, and security officials said there were 12 children and seven women among the refugees.
The accident took place near Rumeli Feneri, a small village at the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea.
Seven coast guard boats, a helicopter and a special team of divers are assisting the rescue work, officials have said, while fishermen have also been assisting.
“The wind is making our task very difficult. The boat is a very small one, it’s in fact just a small boat. But they were carrying 40 people in it. We are seeing bodies of children floating in the sea,” said Ali Saruhan, one of the rescuers in the area.
The refugees were believed to be heading to Romania. According to claims, they paid 7,000 euros each to human traffickers in their desperate attempt to reach Europe.
A local fisherman suggested that the migrant boat was hit by a vessel. "The weather wouldn’t have damaged the boat. So probably a boat hit it, as it sank in a place where there is a lot of traffic," said Emre Can Kolcu.
An investigation has been launched into the incident, with two prosecutors dispatched to inspect the scene.
Dozens of boats have capsized in the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea over the last year, but few have been reported transiting near the Bosphorus.
Just two months ago, a boat carrying 82 migrants was rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard off the northern coast of Istanbul. The refugees, mostly Syrians and Afghans, were also reportedly headed to Romania.
'Bodies of babies floating'
Fishermen who witnessed the accident said all the bodies were found with life jackets. “Those people [the smugglers] should stand in a war tribunal. There were bodies of babies floating in the water. We didn’t manage to pull them out,” said Kadir Sert, one of the first fishermen to arrive at the scene.
Another fisherman also said they saw many bodies floating in the sea as they approached the capsized boat. “We saw someone struggling in the sea. He had a life jacket but was alive. We pulled him out. His sister was next to him, but she wasn’t alive. We also pulled out a three or four-year-old girl. Unfortunately she wasn’t alive. A man aged about 25 who we rescued was crying ‘my brother’ in Turkish. He was in shock,” said Salih Bayraktar, another fisherman.
The number of migrants trying to reach Europe through the risky sea route via the western and southern Turkish coasts has dramatically increased in recent years, particularly since the beginning of the civil war in Syria. Tens of thousands migrants have also attempted to cross the Greek and Bulgarian borders by land.