At least 79 drown, hundreds missing in migrant shipwreck off Greece


ATHENS: At least 79 migrants drowned and hundreds more were missing and feared dead after their overloaded boat capsized and sank in open seas off Greece, in one of Europe’s deadliest shipping disasters in recent years.

As a painstaking search for survivors continued, a European rescue-support charity said it believed around 750 people were on board the 20- to 30-metre-long (65- to 100-foot-long) vessel. The UN’s migration agency estimated up to 400 while Greece declined to speculate on the passenger count.

By midday, 104 people had been rescued. A media report said the boat left from Libya, and a shipping ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity said most of those on board were from Egypt, Syria and Pakistan.

Search and rescue operations were to continue through the night, with military aircraft deploying flares to light up the Mediterranean waters around the wreck site about 50 miles (80 km) southwest of the southern Greek coastal town of Pylos.

Survivors were taken to the Greek port of Kalamata near Pylos. Covered in blankets, they rested on mattresses at a warehouse shelter, and the migration ministry was expected to move them to a camp outside Athens.

Greek state broadcaster ERT said the boat was en route to Italy from the Libyan town of Tobruk, which lies south of the Greek island of Crete. Greek authorities did not confirm the vessel’s departure port. 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, with erratic contact after that.

“According to the people, there were 750 people on board… We now hear reports of a shipwreck and fear they are true,” it said on Twitter. Greek coast guard spokesperson Nikos Alexiou, speaking to Greece’s MEGA TV, said authorities did not know how many were on the boat, especially below deck, but reported it was crowded. “…There were too many people on the outer deck. It was full,” he said.

The Greek coast guard said EU border agency Frontex first spotted the boat on Tuesday in international waters southwest of Pylos, and Italian authorities then alerted Greece to the vessel’s presence. Alarm Phone said it informed Greek authorities, Frontex and the Greek division of the UN refugee agency UNHCR late on Tuesday afternoon.__Pakistan Today