At least three girls were found dead Wednesday off the rocky northwestern coast of the Greek island of Chios after their migrant vessel capsized, coastguard officials said, with a search and rescue operation underway.

Their mother had confirmed the disappearance of the girls, aged five, seven and 10, the Greek coastguard told AFP.

Three navy vessels have rescued 19 migrants, including eight minors and the mother of the girls who drowned, on the boat that set off from Turkey overnight.

It was not clear how many people the boat was carrying, authorities said, though public broadcaster ERT reported that 27 people, mainly Afghans, were on board.

Authorities were alerted by three Afghans who managed to swim to the Chios coast during the night, ERT said.

The islands in the northeastern Aegean Sea are one of the gateways for migrants seeking to reach the European Union.

More than 11,300 arrivals have been recorded on Greek islands since the beginning of this year, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

Around 45,000 asylum-seekers arrived in Greece in 2023, most departing from islands close to the Turkish coast. According to the United Nations, this was the highest number in four years.

In June 2023, 82 people were drowned and hundreds went missing when their ship sank off the coast of Pylos.

Several inquiries into the tragedy are still underway, with some NGOs accusing the Greek coastguard of delaying their response in coming to their aid.