58 refugees on way to UK drown in boat tragedy

More than 50 people drowned yesterday when a fishing boat carrying migrants promised refuge in Britain by smugglers sank after hitting rocks off the coast of western Turkey.

Nine children were among the dead, according to Turkey's Dogan News Agency, though other reports said up to half of the 58 who drowned may have been children.

Several dozen survivors, mostly from Iraq and Syria, were able to swim to shore, only 50 metres away.

Survivors told authorities people were trapped below the deck of the submerged vessel, and divers launched an operation to try to find them. Television footage showed several rescue vessels near the submerged boat, which lay just below the surface of the water. Ambulances waited at the top of a cliff, but there was no indication that anyone else had survived.

The group of migrants had originally made their way to hotels in the city of Izmir, where smugglers agreed to take them to Britain. Authorities arrested two Turkish suspects in the smuggling operation, Turkey's TRT television reported.

The station earlier quoted Tahsin Kurtbeyoglu, a local administrator, as saying 20 bodies were recovered, but the toll rose through the day to 58 as more bodies were pulled from the boat. Those who survived had been on the deck.

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