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16 Jun, 2023 13:29

Hundreds feared drowned in migrant ship disaster

Nine men have been arrested after a heavily laden vessel sank in the Mediterranean Sea
Hundreds feared drowned in migrant ship disaster

Greek authorities have arrested nine Egyptian men for allegedly smuggling migrants on board a fishing boat that sank off the nation’s coast on Wednesday, killing at least 78 people. However authorities believe that over 600 people were on board the boat when it sank.

The suspects are believed to have organized the fateful journey because the vessel's route began in Egypt. It then made a stopover in Libya, a major human trafficking corridor since the western-backed ouster of Muamar Gaddafi in 2011, to bring the migrants aboard. The heavily laden ship then continued towards Italy, Greek TV channel ERT reported, citing survivors’ testimony.

There were conflicting reports as to whether the ship’s captain was among the dead or was one of those arrested.

So far, 104 passengers have been rescued and transferred to the southern city of Kalamata. While the exact number of people missing is unknown, local media has reported that 568 people are still unaccounted for based on official estimates and accounts from survivors.

ERT suggested on Friday that the survivors would be accommodated at a reception and identification center in Malakasa, while the minors among them would be transferred to juvenile centers.

Greek authorities have been accused of not acting fast enough to rescue the migrants on Wednesday. Alarm Phone, a self-organized hotline for people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe said it had alerted the Hellenic Coast Guard to the boat in distress the night before it sank.

But Ilias Siakandaris, a government spokesman, told ERT that the coast guard approached the overcrowded ship at around 10 p.m. local time but remained at a distance after the vessel rejected assistance.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, reported that the number of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean more than doubled in the first five months of this year compared to the same period in 2022.

So far this year, the Central Mediterranean remains the most active route into the EU, with more than 50,300 detections in January-May reported by national authorities,” Frontex said on Friday. Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Malta, and Italy make up the Central Mediterranean route.

According to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), nearly 3,800 people died on migration routes within and from the Middle East and North Africa region in 2022, 11% higher than the previous year.