Six children drown after ship hits migrant dinghy off Turkey: coastguard

At least 13 migrants die off Turkey as the inflatable dinghy carrying them to Greece collides with a ferry (AFP Photo/Angelos Tzortzinis)

Ankara (AFP) - At least 13 migrants -- six of them children -- drowned off Turkey Sunday after the inflatable dinghy carrying them to Greece was hit in the dark by a Turkish-flagged ship, Turkish media reported.

The children's bodies were recovered by the Turkish coastguard with reports from Greece indicating that another two children may still be missing.

They were on a flimsy vessel taking at least 46 migrants from Turkey's northwestern coast to the Greek holiday island of Lesbos when the accident happened, the private Dogan news agency reported.

"It was dark, we saw the ship bearing down on us. We tried to signal with flashlights and cellphones but they did not see us," a survivor called Haseen told Greece's state news agency, ANA.

Thrown into the water, the passengers were left fighting to keep their heads above water as a succession of big waves from the ship's wake crashed over them.

"We lost the children. We could not see them in the dark," Haseen said.

A mother and baby, who had spent at least two hours in the water, were among the survivors, according to ANA.

The Greek coastguard said it had rescued 22 people from a boat that sank off Lesbos, apparently referring to the same incident, claiming there were 48 people on board.

Greece's marine ministry said a search was underway for those missing.

The Greek coastguard later recovered the bodies of a woman and a young girl. It was not clear whether they had drowned in the same accident.

On Saturday, a five-year-old Syrian girl drowned and several other refugees were reported missing after their boat also sank trying to reach Lesbos.

- Body of girl, 4, found on beach -

The latest tragedy unfolded in the same stretch of water east of the island with a helicopter deployed by EU border agency Frontex spotting the migrants in the water at around 0300 GMT, a spokeswoman for the Greek coastguard told AFP.

"Two coastguard vessels went out and rescued 22 people, including three women and a child. The survivors said there had been 46 people on board, but later this changed to 48 people," she added.

Eight children under 12 were still missing from the group, which paid 1,000 euros ($1,130) a head to a Turkish smuggler for the journey, the agency added.

There was no information on the migrants' nationalities but the crossing from Turkey to Greece is the most popular route for Syrians, Iraqis and other people fleeing conflicts and misery in the Middle East and Asia to Europe.

On Friday, the body of a four-year-old Syria girl washed up on a beach to the south near the Turkish fishing port of Cesme.

Harrowing pictures of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found on a Turkish beach after the boat carrying his family to the Greek island of Kos sank, caused an outpouring of emotion around the world, pressuring European leaders to step up their response to the refugee crisis.

Hundreds of migrants have died this year in perilous crossings in overcrowded boats.

On Friday, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtumulus said 274 migrants had drowned off the country since January. Around 52,200 others were rescued by the coastguard, he said.

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