Turkish rescuers have pulled 24 bodies from the Black Sea at the mouth of Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait and rescued seven people after a boat carrying migrants capsized, officials said.
The boat was carrying 42 Afghan migrants – including 12 children and seven women – and a Turkish captain, the Hurriyet news website reported. It was believed to have been heading for Bulgaria or Romania, but it was unclear where it set to sea.
Turkey is one of the main departure points for migrants aiming for the EU, but most travel across the Aegean to Greece.
The boats are often makeshift dinghies, usually overcrowded, with the migrants paying thousands of dollars to smugglers in Turkey.
Two months ago another group of migrants – mostly Syrians and Afghans – was rescued by the Turkish coastguard off the northern coast reportedly heading for the EU.
“The wind is making our task very difficult. The boat is a very small one. But they were carrying 40 people in it. We are seeing bodies of children floating in the sea,” rescuer Ali Saruhan told Hurriyet Daily News.
Turkish rescuers have pulled 24 bodies from the Black Sea at the mouth of Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait (photo Hurriyet Daily News)
Seven coastguard vessels and a helicopter were conducting the search in the Black Sea, some 3 miles north of the Bosphorus, the coastguard said in a statement.
A fisherman who helped retrieve the bodies told Hurriyet that all were without life jackets. He said that babies were among the dead.
The official Anatolia news agency said that rescuers were alerted to the sinking by fishermen and arrived at the scene of the accident to find the vessel semi-submerged.
Correspondents say that it is not clear what caused the boat to sink, although overcrowding, bad weather conditions, the poor condition of the vessel or even a collision with another boat were all possibilities.
Since the start of the civil war in Syria, thousands of migrants have been trying to reach the EU by making the treacherous sea journey from the western and southern Turkish coast.
Tens of thousands of migrants have also attempted to cross the Greek and Bulgarian borders by land, Hurriyet says.
Marmaray tunnel underneath the Bosphorus Strait has been opened in Turkey, creating a new link between the Asian and European shores of Istanbul.
The Marmaray tunnel is the world’s first connecting two continents, and is designed to withstand earthquakes.
The railway tunnel was inaugurated on the 90th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey.
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for years championed the undersea engineering project, first conceived by an Ottoman sultan in 1860.
Work began in 2004, but archaeological excavations delayed construction.
The underwater section runs for 0.8 miles (1.4 km), but in total the tunnel is 8.5 miles (13.6 km) long.
Japan invested $1 billion of the $4 billion total cost of the project, named Marmaray, which is a conflation of the nearby Sea of Marmara with “ray”, the Turkish word for rail.
The Turkish government hopes the new route under the Bosphorus will eventually develop into an important trading route.
Marmaray tunnel underneath the Bosphorus Strait has been opened in Turkey, creating a new link between the Asian and European shores of Istanbul
In theory it brings closer the day when it will be possible to travel from London to Beijing via Istanbul by train.
The Marmaray project will upgrade existing suburban train lines to create a direct link joining the southern part of the city across the Bosphorus Strait.
Istanbul is one of the world’s biggest cities, with about 16 million people. Some 2 million people cross the Bosphorus every day via just two bridges, causing severe traffic congestion, the AFP news agency reported.
The rail service will be capable of carrying 75,000 people per hour in either direction.
“While creating a transport axis between the east and west points of the city, I believe it will soothe the problem” of congestion, said Istanbul’s Mayor Kadir Topbas.
Critics of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan have seen the tunnel as one of his grandiose construction projects for the city where he used to be mayor.
Detractors of his proposals, including a third airport, a parallel canal, a third bridge over the Bosphorus and a second tunnel – for cars, south of Marmaray – say they illustrate Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “pharaonic” ambitions.
Authorities came under fire earlier this year when protesters opposed plans to redevelop Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Widespread violence between anti-government demonstrators and security forces ensued.
Marmaray tunnel is still not fully operational after Tuesday’s opening, AFP reports.
“The part that is in service is very limited. All that has been delayed until much later,” said Tayfun Kahraman, president of the Istanbul Chamber of Urban Planners.
“We are wondering why this inauguration is happening so soon.”