A fishing boat full of migrants capsized in deep waters off the coast of Greece on Wednesday.
79 are confirmed to be dead and hundreds are still missing. Rescuers were able to save 104 passengers but up to 750 people were estimated to be on the ship. Survivors were taken to local hospitals to be treated for hypothermia and other minor injuries. Several speculate that this situation has the potential to be the worst tragedy recorded on the central Mediterranean Sea.
“All the men who have been rescued are between 16 and 41 years old according to what they said,” Kalamata Mayor Thanasis Vasilopoulos said Wednesday. “They also said there were women and children on board,” he added.
Only men and boys were rescued from the boat; however, survivors state that women and children were present. Many suspect that those left on board were trapped below the deck, unable to escape once the boat began sinking. Authorities estimate it took about 10 to 15 minutes for the boat to sink completely.
"The survivors are in a very difficult situation. Right now they are in shock," Erasmia Roumana, head of a United Nations Refugee Agency delegation, told The Associated Press.
The migrants on board started their journey in Tobruk, Libya and were en route to Italy. On board were migrants from Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, and Afghanistan. According to local media reports, they had been traveling for several days. Prior to sinking, those on the ship attempted to use Alarm Phone, an emergency hotline for migrants who are in trouble at sea.
However, their distress calls were not answered until it was too late.
Greek authorities and the coast guard are being criticized for not stepping in to help the migrants sooner. The hotline stated that Greek authorities were "aware of the ship being in distress for hours before any help was sent" and they "had been informed by different sources". Their response to the criticism was that those on board refused help and insisted on continuing their journey to Italy.
“We are shocked, we are shocked like everyone in Greece,” Katernina Vasilopoulus, the president of Greece, said.
Greece has declared a three-day mourning period in order to honor the lives lost on the boat.
ERT, a Greek state-run public broadcaster, stated that nine suspected traffickers were arrested and are being interrogated at the central port authority in Kalamata. The number of undocumented people arriving on the coast of European shores has exponentially increased in the last few years due to conflict, inequality, and climate change. More than 36,000 people have migrated within the first quarter of this year, almost twice as much compared to 2022 according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
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