A small motorboat carrying 38 migrants capsized on Monday off France's Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, killing at least 17 people -- eight of them children, officials said.
The boat, carrying migrants from the Comoros Islands about 200km to the northwest, overturned while trying to evade the French coast guard, the Ministry of Immigration said in a statement.
Four people on the boat survived. Police backed by aircraft searched for the 17 others who were thrown overboard and were not accounted for. Some of the 17 may have reached safety, officials said.
"It appears that about 10 people were able to reach the shore by their own means," Lieutenant Colonel Patrice Martinez, of the police force in Mayotte, said by telephone.
A Paris-based official with France's national gendarmerie said on Monday eight children were among the dead.
Survivors said the boat, known locally as a kwassa-kwassa and typically about 7m or 8m long, had left on Sunday from Comoros. The shipwreck occurred near the shore in choppy seas, Martinez said.
Such boats, often heavily laden, regularly tip over. One such boat capsized July 22 also east of Mayotte, killing one person -- though 26 people were unaccounted for.
Comoros, between the northern tip of Madagascar and Africa, has faced a series of coups and political turmoil since it gained independence from France in 1975. It is one of the world's poorest countries, with a young and rapidly growing population of about 770,000.
France last year expelled more than 16,000 illegal immigrants from Comoros who had reached Mayotte, the ministry said.
"This new drama tragically illustrates the risks that [human] traffickers run by exploiting the miseries of these migrants," said the statement, vowing to fight such "criminal networks."