Greece continues to search for survivors in the aftermath of a deadly capsize of a boat overloaded with migrants. Hundreds” may have died.
nety-eight bodies have so far been found at sea off the coast of the Peloponnese peninsula, according to the coastguard, which has thus revised downwards the death toll of 79 announced the previous day.
But the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it feared “hundreds more” had drowned “in one of the most devastating tragedies to hit the Mediterranean in a decade”.
750 people aboard the trawler
Greek government spokesman Ilias Siakantaris had said on Wednesday that there were unconfirmed reports of 750 people on board the trawler.
Two patrol boats, a navy frigate, three helicopters and nine other vessels continued to inspect the waters west of the Peloponnese coast, one of the deepest areas of the Mediterranean.
The Greek Supreme Court has ordered an inquiry to determine the causes of the tragedy, which has shocked Greece, which has been accused for years by NGOs and the international media of turning back migrants seeking asylum in the EU.
A three-day national mourning period was declared, interrupting the electoral campaign for the June 25 parliamentary elections.
But some newspapers did not hide their anger at this latest tragedy involving migrants. The center-left daily Efsyn ran the simple headline “Shame!” in six languages.
Pope Francis, who is very sensitive to migration issues, said he was “deeply dismayed” by the shipwreck.
“In a state of shock”
In the south-western port of Kalamata, where the survivors have been taken, “it’s really horrible”, UNHCR employee Erasmia Roumana told AFP. The survivors are “in a very bad psychological situation (…) Many are in a state of shock, they are overwhelmed”.
So far, 104 people have been rescued and will shortly be transferred to a reception center for migrants in Malakasa, north-east of Athens.
The survivors “are all men”, said the coastguard spokeswoman, raising fears that women and children, who usually also board these boats, may be among the missing.
The majority of the survivors are Syrians (47), Egyptians (43), as well as 12 Pakistanis and two Palestinians, according to the Greek authorities.
“We don’t know what was in the hold, but we do know that smugglers are locking people in,” said a government spokesman on ERT on Wednesday.
A survivor also told doctors at Kalamata hospital that he had seen around a hundred children in the hold of the boat, according to ERT. More than 20 people remain hospitalized in Kalamata, the public broadcaster said.
“They are suffering mainly from pneumonia, dehydration and hypothermia,” Manolis Makaris, head of the cardiology department at Kalamata hospital, told Athens Municipal Radio.
An image broadcast by the coastguard showed a blue trawler, 25 to 30 m long and clearly in poor condition, overloaded with people, gathered on deck from bow to stern and even on the roof of the gangway.
“According to the Greek port authorities, a surveillance plane belonging to the European agency Frontex had spotted the boat on Tuesday afternoon, but did not intervene as the passengers “refused all help”.
“You don’t ask people on board a drifting boat if they want help (…), it would have taken imminent help,” Nikos Spanos, an international expert on maritime incidents, told ERT.
According to the Greek authorities, the migrants had set off from Libya and were heading for Italy. The boat’s engine failed shortly before 23:00 GMT on Tuesday and the vessel capsized in the deepest waters of the Mediterranean, 47 nautical miles (87 km) from Pylos in the Ionian Sea, said Mr. Siakantaris, sinking in 10 to 15 minutes.
According to several officials, the survivors had no life jackets. The survivors are being temporarily housed in a warehouse in the port of Kalamata for identification by the authorities, who are looking for the smugglers.
Visibly shocked and tired, the survivors were lying or sitting on makeshift mattresses set up in the warehouse, assisted by Red Cross teams and others.