A yacht and a dinghy crammed with immigrants trying to enter Greece capsized Monday in the eastern Aegean Sea, leaving at least 22 dead, including four children, with several more missing, in the third such fatal accident in the area this year.
The vessels had been trying to enter Greece illegally when they overturned before dawn off the coast of the island of Samos near the Turkish coast. It was not immediately clear what caused the overloaded craft to capsize.
Some 65 migrants were attempting to make the crossing from neighboring Turkey when their vessels went down near the Greek island of Samos.
The authorities have so far picked up 36 survivors, including three women and a boy, who was flown to an Athens hospital suffering from hypothermia. A man and a child were also airlifted to a hospital.
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.
The nationalities of the migrants were not immediately known.
A coastguard spokeswoman said the capsized vessels were spotted early on Monday morning by a patrol boat from the EU border agency Frontex, which alerted the Greek coastguard.
"We can't give a precise number of missing people with any certainty," Coast guard spokesman Nikos Lagadianos told The Associated Press earlier, before the overturned yacht was searched.
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 in the morning 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.
Human traffickers are using Greece's Aegean islands as a preferred route into Europe following a tightening of migration controls along its land border with Turkey.
Fatal accidents are frequent as migrants risk the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey. Before Monday's incident, 21 people had drowned in similar incidents since the beginning of 2014.
Amnesty International recently reported in a study that 188 adults and children died or were missing in the area between August 2012 and March 2014.
Over the weekend, the Greek coast guard rescued about 250 immigrants from the sea.
Al Jazeera and wire services