Greece pursues survivor search after migrant boat sinking
KALAMATA, Greece — Greece on Thursday maintained a search for survivors a day after a fishing boat overloaded with migrants capsized and sank in the Ionian Sea, with the number of victims feared to reach into the hundreds.
The coastguard said 78 bodies had been recovered so far, amending a toll of 79 deaths given Wednesday.
A spokeswoman told AFP that two patrol boats, a helicopter and six other ships in the area were searching the waters west of the Peloponnese peninsula, one of the deepest areas in the Mediterranean.
Greece has declared three days of mourning over the tragedy.
A Greek navy frigate bearing the bodies will dock at the western port of Kalamata later Thursday, the agency said.
So far 104 people have been rescued but there are fears that hundreds more are missing, based on testimony from the survivors and the fact that no women and children were among them.
“They are all men,” the coastguard spokeswoman said.
Government spokesman Ilias Siakantaris on Wednesday said there were unconfirmed reports that up to 750 people were on the boat.
“We do not know what was in the hold… but we know that several smugglers lock people up to maintain control,” he told state broadcaster ERT.
A survivor told hospital doctors in Kalamata that he had seen a hundred children in the boat’s hold, ERT said.
“The fishing boat was 25-30 meters long. Its deck was full of people, and we assume the interior was just as full,” coastguard spokesman Nikolaos Alexiou told ERT.
The coastguard said a surveillance plane with Europe’s Frontex agency had spotted the boat on Tuesday afternoon, but the passengers had “refused any help”.
It added that none on board were wearing life jackets.
Authorities said it appeared the migrants had departed from Libya and were heading for Italy.
The boat’s engine gave up shortly before 2300 GMT on Tuesday and the vessel capsized in the deepest waters of the Mediterranean, Siakantaris said, sinking in around 10 to 15 minutes.
The survivors are mainly from Syria, Egypt and Pakistan, the coastguard said, and are temporarily housed in a port warehouse to be identified and interviewed by Greek authorities, who are looking for possible smugglers among them.
“It’s really horrific,” Erasmia Roumana, a member of the UNHCR refugee agency, told AFP at the port, adding that the survivors were “in a very bad psychological situation.”
“Many are under shock, they are so overwhelmed.”
“Many of them worry about the people they travelled with, families or friends. They want to call their families and tell them that they arrived,” she said.
The worst migrant tragedy in Greece was in June 2016, when at least 320 people were listed as dead or missing in a sinking near Crete, according to AFP records going back to 1993.