UPDATE Refugee boat sinks off Turkey's western coast, 18 dead

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-Turkish Coast Guard rescues 21 people from sinking vessel in Aegean Sea

UPDATES DEATH TOLL

IZMIR, Turkey – At least 18 people, including six children, have drowned off the Aegean Sea coast of Turkey.

A wooden vessel carrying refugees sank early Thursday, according to the Turkish Coast Guard.

Coast guard teams launched search-and-rescue efforts for the packed boat that capsized off the Bademler area of Izmir’s Dikili district as it tried to reach nearby Greek islands.

Twenty-one refugees were rescued, while 18 others were found dead in the sea, the officials said.

Backed by two coast guard boats and two helicopters, the search is underway to find 11 missing refugees.

Diving teams were also dispatched to the scene after survivors spoke of other refugees in the closed cabin of the semi-submerged vessel.

Four Turkish provinces — Canakkale, Izmir, Mugla, and Aydin — lying on the Aegean Sea facing Greek islands are prime spots for refugees leaving Turkey for EU countries.

Over the past year, thousands have made short but perilous journeys across the Aegean in a bid to reach northern and western Europe. Worsening weather conditions in the winter make the trip even more dangerous.

According to latest data from the International Organization for Migration, 800,000 refugees reached Europe via the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, accounting for 80 percent of the refugees arriving irregularly in Europe by sea in 2015.

According to the UN’s refugee agency, more than 950,000 people in total have reached Europe by sea this year.

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