At least 21 die in boat sinkings off Greek islands

ATHENS, Greece -- At least 41 people, including 17 children, died as two separate smuggling boats sank overnight off of different Greek islands.

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Dozens of migrants survived the shipwrecks and a search-and-rescue operation was underway Friday looking more survivors.

In the first tragedy, a wooden boat carrying 48 people sank in off the small islet of Farmakonissi in the eastern Aegean Sea. Forty of the passengers managed to make it to shore, while authorities rescued one girl and recovered seven bodies from the sea -- six children and one woman, the Greek coast guard said.

A few hours later, a wooden sailboat carrying an undetermined number of people sank off the Greek islet of Kalolimnos, to the south of Farmakonissi.

The coast guard rescued 26 people from that sinking and recovered 34 bodies -- 16 women, seven men and 11 children -- while coast guard vessels, a helicopter and private boats were still searching for survivors. Authorities said the survivors' estimates of how many people had been on board varied from about 40 to 70, so it was unclear how many people were missing.

Greece has become the main gateway for people fleeing war and poverty who are trying to reach the European Union. More than 800,000 entered Greece last year, mostly using unseaworthy boats to reach Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast. Hundreds have died in the attempt.


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