By Jonathan Mason-June 15th, 2023.
Rescuers were still searching international waters off the coast of Greece on Thursday following a 2:00 a.m. shipwreck that killed at least 79 migrants. There is little hope of finding more survivors and theree are fears that hundreds more, including children, may have drowned trapped inside the hold of the crowded fishing boat.
Reports suggested that anything between 400 and 750 people had packed the fishing boat that capsized and sank early on Wednesday morning in deep waters about 50 miles (80 km) from the southern coastal town of Pyrgos. Greek authorities said 104 survivors had been brought ashore.
As it began to flounder late on Tuesday night, people on the vessel’s crowded outer deck repeatedly turned down attempted assistance from a Greek coast guard boat that was shadowing it, saying they wanted to reach Italy, according to Greek authorities.
“When you are faced with such a situation… you need to be very careful in your actions,” coast guard spokesperson Nikos Alexiou told state broadcaster ERT.
“You cannot just carry out a violent diversion on such a vessel with so many people on board… without any sort of cooperation.”
As Greece declared three days of mourning, authorities said it was unclear how many had been aboard. They were investigating an account from a European rescue-support charity that there could have been 750 people on the 20- to 30 metre-long (65- to 100-foot) boat.
Government sources said chances of retrieving the sunken vessel, which had set off from the Libyan port of Tobruk, were remote, because the area of international waters where the incident occurred is one of the Mediterranean’s deepest.
Aerial pictures released by the Greek coast guard showed dozens of people on the boat’s upper and lower decks looking up, some with arms outstretched, hours before it sank.
Alarm Phone, which operates a trans-European network supporting rescue operations, said it received alerts from people on board a ship in distress off Greece late on Tuesday.
It said it had alerted Greek authorities and spoke to people on the vessel who estimated there were up to 750 people on board and appealed for help, and that the captain had fled on a small boat.
Government officials said that before capsizing and sinking around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, the vessel’s engine stalled and it began veering from side to side.
Source: Reuters, BBC, CNN.