Turkey migrant ship
A Turkish Navy's coastguard ship carries out a rescue operation after a boat sank in the Bosphorus strait Reuters/Osman Orsal

Turkey has opened fire to stop a Syrian migrant ship from entering European Union waters.

The Turkish coastguard opened fire to stop a cargo vessel carrying 337 people heading towards European Union waters and arrested the suspected traffickers, a top local official said on 13 March.

The official Anatolia news agency reported 337 mainly Syrian migrants were on the ship, including 85 children and 68 women. The Syrian refugees were taken off it and housed in a sports hall in the nearby town of Gelibolu. Where the ship had been headed was not immediately clear.

Paying no heed to warning shots

On 12 March, the coastguard launched an operation to chase the 59m (194ft) Dogan Kartal boat as it headed through the Dardanelles Straits in north-west Turkey.

The vessel initially disregarded calls to stop, including warning shots, but was forced to halt when the guards fired on the engines, Anatolia reported.

"It stopped when the engines were fired on and then came to a complete halt when the steering wheel was locked," Ahmet Cinar, the head of the western Canakkale province where the Straits are located, told the agency. He did not give further details on how the vessel was halted.

Five arrested

Two Turkish crew members, identified only as Y.Y. and N.K., along with three suspected foreign organisers of the trafficking have been arrested.

Turkey currently hosts some 1.7 million refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war. The country has become a key transit point for migrants.

Many pay traffickers thousands of dollars to take perilous journeys in small boats, which often end in disaster.