39 dead after boat of illegal immigrants sinks off Turkey

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At least 39 people drowned on Thursday after a boat carrying illegal immigrants trying to reach Europe capsized in waters off western Turkey, the Anatolia news agency reported, citing a local official.

"The number of casualties recovered from the boat rose to 39," said Ardahan Totuk, acting governor of Izmir province, adding that the toll would rise as more bodies were found in the boat locker.

Forty-five people including two crew members were rescued alive, Totuk said earlier, adding that the captain and his mate who were among the survivors were detained.

The boat hit the rocks after it left Ahmetbeyli on the western coast of Turkey close to Greek islands, Tahsin Kurtbeyoglu, a local official of Menderes district in Izmir province, told the private NTV television.

The nationalities of the immigrants including children were not immediately available, he noted, but said most of them were from Arab countries. NTV said the survivors were from neighbouring Iraq and Syria.

The boat's final destination was not known, nor the exact number of its passengers. Officials said a search and rescue operation was under way to find the missing crew.

Turkey has become a hub of illegal immigrants who aspire to cross into European countries for better lives. Neighbouring Greece is the busiest entry point for illegal immigrants trying to reach the European Union.

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