Athens: Greek divers trawled the Aegean Sea on Monday for survivors of the country`s worst maritime accident involving refugees, as officials reacted with despair at the scene of the tragedy in which 15 babies and children drowned.
In all, 34 people died and nearly 100 were rescued after their small wooden boat capsized early on Sunday off the tiny island of Farmakonisi, less than 10 km (6 miles) from the Turkish coast.
"I`m devastated. There was a lady there who wanted information and told me her three children and husband were missing. She was holding a three-month old infant in her arms," one Greek official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"What was I supposed to tell her? That we found them? Her three children and husband are dead."
Christos Zois, shipping minister in Greece`s caretaker government, told the state Athens News Agency he felt as if he had been "kicked in the stomach" after visiting the area.
Greece has become the main gateway for refugees flowing into Europe, many of them fleeing conflict in countries like Syria and Afghanistan, in the continent`s worst migration crisis since World War Two.
Thousands are making the short but perilous journey from the Turkish coast to a chain of Greek islands just across the border in flimsy inflatable dinghies that are often overcrowded or burst along the way.
The Greek coastguard said it had rescued 1,429 migrants over the past three days.
Coastguard divers continued to search around Farmakonisi on Monday without finding more bodies.
Further south on the island of Rhodes, other coastguard staff wearing surgical masks carried body bags from a boat into waiting vans en route to a mortuary, Reuters television footage showed .
The bags been transferred there from Leros, an island close to Farmakonisi.
This and many similar tragedies have provoked outrage at the gangs of people-traffickers who extort money from desperate people with the promise of smuggling them across to Europe.
"Another tragedy caused by the traffickers. It was a clear murder today, and Europe had to declare war on these ruthless criminals yesterday," said George Hatzimarkos, governor of the South Aegean region.
European Union states have so far failed to reach agreement over proposals for a mandatory quota system to take in refugees.
More than 430,000 refugees and migrants - a record number - have made the journey across the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, and almost 2,750 have drowned, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Of the total, an estimated 309,000 arrived by sea in Greece, half of whom were Syrians, the IMO said.