According to survivors of a fishing boat that sank off the coast of southern Greece in one of Europe’s biggest migrant disasters, close to 100 children were on board. At least 78 persons have been reported dead as a result of the incident.
However, many more people may still be lost at sea, with estimates claiming that up to 750 people were aboard the ship. According to Greek television, nine persons have been arrested on suspicion of people trafficking, including several Egyptians.
The coastguard has been chastised for failing to intervene sooner, but authorities claim their offers of assistance were turned down. Rescuers are still looking for survivors in the area where the boat capsized over 50 nautical miles off the south-west coast.
According to Greek media, the boat left Egypt empty and stopped at the Libyan port of Tobruk, where it picked up migrants bound for Italy.
Images showed the decks filled with people, but medics who treated the primarily male survivors reported seeing a huge number of women and children in the ship’s hold.
According to a top doctor at Kalamata General Hospital, up to 100 child migrants were on the ship.
“[The survivors] told us there were children in the ship’s hold.” “Children and women,” remarked cardiology chief Dr. Manolis Makaris.
He stated that two patients had given him estimates.
“One told me about 100 children, the other about 50, so I don’t know the truth – but it is many,” he added.
According to Dr. Makaris, the accident may have killed up to 600 people.
“The total number of passengers on the boat was 750.” This is the precise amount that everyone told him about,” he explained.
Families of some missing Egyptian youngsters had sent him images of their young relatives in the expectation that he would recognise them after treating them, he claimed.
“It was a tragedy,” he reflected. “No one in Europe should accept this situation.” We must take action. Everyone must do something to prevent this from happening again.”
A survivor was asked by a reporter from Greece’s ANT1 channel if there were 100 children on board, to which the survivor replied, “Yes.”
The BBC was unable to independently verify the statistic, but it was corroborated by the organisation Save the Children, which used survivor accounts.
According to Greek government spokesman Ilias Siakantaris, the number of persons in the hold is unknown: “However, we know that several smugglers lock people up to maintain control.”
The coast guard released a later image of the fishing boat in the hours before it sank on Thursday. Some of the missing’s families have arrived in Kalamata in search of their loved ones.
“My relatives were on the boat,” claimed Aftab, who had gone from the United Kingdom and said at least four of his Pakistani relatives were missing.
“We’ve received confirmation. In [the rescue centre], we discovered one of the relatives. “We haven’t gotten our hands on the others yet,” he told the BBC.
A Syrian guy from the Netherlands sobbed as he divulged the whereabouts of his wife and brother-in-law.
“The police are searching for their bodies in the sea…”They’re looking in hospitals, among dead bodies, and among survivors,” Kassam Abozeed told the BBC. After being contacted by persons on the boat on Tuesday morning, activist Nawal Soufi was the first to raise the alarm.
The coastguard said initial contact with the fishing boat was made at 14:00 local time (11:00 GMT) on Tuesday, and no need for assistance was made.
According to the report, the Greek shipping ministry made frequent contact with the yacht and was told it merely wanted to continue sailing to Italy. During the evening, two commercial ships brought water. Ms Soufi stated on Facebook that the scenario became “complicated” when a ship approached the craft and hooked ropes to it while putting water bottles on board.
She stated that several of the persons on board felt in “extreme danger” because they were afraid the rope would cause the boat to flip and that fighting on board would result in it capsizing. The boat then began to move away.
According to the coastguard, the boat’s engine failed in the early hours of Wednesday, and passengers on board began to move around, leading it to capsize. The 104 people rescued were all men.
Alarm Phone, an emergency helpline for migrants in difficulty at sea, claimed that the coastguard was “aware of the ship being in distress for hours before any help was sent,” and that authorities had been “informed by various sources” that the boat was in trouble.
However, coastguard spokeswoman Nikos Alexiou stated that they attempted to persuade the vessel to seek assistance and “stayed by if they needed us to save people.”
On Thursday, former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visited Kalamata and spoke with survivors about what they thought went wrong.
“The Greek coastguard asked the vessel to follow them, but they couldn’t,” said a translator. “The coastguard then threw a rope, but because they didn’t know how to pull the rope, the vessel started dangling right and left,”
“The coastguard boat was going too fast, but the vessel was already dangling to the left, and that’s how it sank.”
Greece is in mourning for three days. Campaigning has been halted ahead of the parliamentary election on June 25, and a television discussion scheduled for Thursday has been scrapped.
On Thursday evening, several marches in Athens, Thessaloniki, and other cities took place in protest of the tragedy.
Greece is a major entry point for refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa into the European Union.
Last month, the Greek government faced international condemnation after a video surfaced showing the forcible removal of migrants stranded at sea.