May 23, 2024

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Greece searches the site of the shipwreck; Hundreds feared drowning in the hold of the boat

Greece searches the site of the shipwreck;  Hundreds feared drowning in the hold of the boat
  • An overburdened migrant boat sank early on Wednesday
  • Hopes fade with the death toll revised to 78, 104 survivors
  • Fears of as many as 750 people on board, many trapped in hold
  • The boat sank in one of the deepest parts of the Mediterranean

KALAMATA, Greece (Reuters) – Rescuers scoured the seas off Greece on Thursday in the aftermath of a shipwreck that claimed the lives of at least 78 migrants, as survivors had little hope and fears grew that hundreds more, including children, could drown inside the crowded vessel. Catch.

Reports indicated that between 400 and 750 people had packed the fishing boat, which capsized and sank early Wednesday morning in deep waters 50 miles (80 km) from the southern coastal town of Pylos. Greek authorities said 104 survivors were brought ashore.

Outside the coast guard office in the port city of Kalamata, where survivors were taken, a Syrian man whose wife was missing sought answers.

Qassam Abu Zeid, who lives in Germany, said he last heard from his wife, Israa, eight days ago. She paid $4,500 (4,124 euros) to travel on the boat, the 34-year-old said, and showed a picture of her on his phone.

The search operation has not recovered any bodies in more than 24 hours, and the bodies of the victims have been taken to a cemetery near Athens for DNA tests. Government sources said that the chances of recovering the sunken ship are remote due to the depth of the water.

An official at the Shipping Ministry said nine Egyptians had been arrested because of the shipwreck. Greek TV Sky reported that, according to witnesses, the ship left Egypt and stopped in the Libyan port of Tobruk before sailing to Italy.

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European charity Support Rescue said there could have been 750 people on board the boat, which was between 20 and 30 meters (65 to 100 feet) long. The UN’s International Organization for Migration said initial reports indicated there were up to 400 people on board. Its refugee agency said hundreds were feared missing.

“The shipwreck off Pylos represents one of the biggest maritime tragedies in the Mediterranean in recent memory,” Maria Clara, UNHCR Representative in Greece, told Reuters.

The Vatican said in a statement that Pope Francis, who visited Greece two years ago to draw attention to the plight of the refugees, “was deeply concerned when he learned of the shipwreck … and the devastating loss of life that followed.”

Reuters graphics

Our last night alive

Independent refugee activist Nawal Sofi said in a Facebook post that she had been in contact with the migrants on the ship from the early hours of Tuesday until 11 p.m.

“All the while they asked me what they should do and I kept telling them that Greek help would come. On this last call, the man I was talking to said bluntly to me: ‘I feel like this is going to be our last night alive,'” she wrote.

Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

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Aerial photos published by the Greek authorities of the boat, hours before it sank, showed dozens of people on the upper and lower decks of the boat looking up, some with outstretched arms.

But Greek officials said people on the crowded decks repeatedly refused to try to get help from a Greek coast guard boat in the shade, saying they wanted to get to Italy.

“You can’t do a violent diversion on board such a ship with so many people on board… without any kind of cooperation,” coast guard spokesman Nikos Alexiou told state broadcaster ERT.

Alert Phone, which operates a network across Europe supporting rescue operations and received alerts from people on board a ship in distress off Greece late Tuesday, said the captain fled on a small boat.

Before the ship capsized and sank around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, government officials said, the ship’s engine stopped and it began to yaw from side to side.


Thousands of left-wing protesters gathered Thursday evening in Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki, calling for an easing of immigration policies in the European Union. A group of protesters in Athens hurled petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas.

In Kalamata, protesters marched outside a migrant shelter. One banner read: “Crocodile Tears! No to the EU Migration Agreement”.

Left-wing Greek leader Alexis Tsipras, prime minister in 2015-2019 at the height of Europe’s migration crisis, said during a visit to Kalamata on Thursday that EU migration policy “turns the Mediterranean and our seas into watery graveyards.”

With a conservative government in power until last month, Greece has taken a tougher stance on migration, setting up walled camps and strengthening border control.

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The country is currently governed by a caretaker administration pending elections on June 25.

Greek government spokesman Ilias Siakantaris told Reuters the biggest challenge for EU border countries “is to craft a comprehensive EU solution on migration and asylum that respects international law and universal humanity.”

The United Nations has recorded more than 20,000 deaths and disappearances in the central Mediterranean since 2014, making it the most dangerous migrant crossing in the world.

Additional reporting by Stelios Messinas in Kalamata, Rene Maltzo, Carolina Tagaris and Alkis Konstantinidis in Athens, and Angelo Amanti in Rome; Written by Michel Cambas; Editing by John Stonestreet, Hugh Lawson, Alexandra Hudson, Jonathan Otis and Cynthia Osterman

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