At least 45 people, including 17 children, drowned Friday in the Aegean Sea as two smuggling boats sunk off different Greek islands. A search-and-rescue operation was underway for others feared trapped in the wreckage.
The Greek coast guard and other boats saved more than 70 people from the sunken vessels, the AP reported citing local reports.
The new drownings follow hundreds over the past year as Europe faces its worst immigration crisis since the end of World War II. More than a million people seeking asylum have entered the continent in 2015 most through Greece, coming across the sea in small smugglers' boats from Turkey.
In the first sinking Friday in the eastern Aegean Sea, a wooden boat carrying 49 people foundered off the small Greek islet of Farmakonissi. Forty people managed to make it to shore, while authorities rescued one girl and recovered eight bodies from the sea six children and two women, the coast guard said.
A few hours later, a wooden sailboat carrying an undetermined number of people sank off the islet of Kalolimnos, south of Farmakonissi. The coast guard rescued 22 men and four women, and recovered 34 bodies those of 16 women, seven men and 11 children.
One survivor told APTV that the vessel's engine failed about 3 a.m., five hours after they departed from Izmir in Turkey. Speaking at a reception center on the island of Kalymnos, he said about 80 people on board had paid $2,500 each for a berth, with half that sum for children.
Later, Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said the Turkish coast guard rescued six survivors from the area of the two accidents and found another three bodies.
Kate O'Sullivan, a member of the Save the Children charity team on the island of Lesbos, expressed horror at Friday's drownings and urged the EU to secure safe, legal passage for refugees.
"Instead of focusing on building fences and tightening border controls, we are calling on European leaders to take action to ensure no more children lose their lives senselessly," she said.