Tragic Boat Disaster off Southern Greece Claims 79 Lives, Hundreds Still Missing
A devastating boat disaster off the coast of southern Greece has resulted in the death of at least 79 people, while over 100 individuals have been rescued. However, survivors and Greek officials fear that hundreds more migrants were onboard the ill-fated fishing vessel. The Greek government has declared three days of mourning, considering this incident as one of the country’s worst migrant tragedies.
The boat capsized approximately 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Pylos after reportedly declining assistance from the coastguard. The vessel was spotted in international waters by an aircraft from the EU border agency Frontex. Shockingly, none of the passengers were wearing life jackets. Greek authorities had made contact with the boat multiple times via satellite phone, offering help, but were repeatedly turned down with the response, “We want nothing more than to go on to Italy.”
During the early hours of Wednesday, the boat notified the Greek coastguard of an engine malfunction. Shortly thereafter, the boat capsized, sinking completely within a span of ten to fifteen minutes. The search and rescue operation was hindered by strong winds. Disturbingly, the emergency helpline for migrants, Alarm Phone, claimed that the coastguard was aware of the distressed ship’s situation for hours before providing any assistance. The helpline further stated that the migrants might have been fearful of encountering Greek authorities due to their knowledge of the country’s alleged “horrible and systematic pushback practices.”
Reports suggest that the boat was en route from Libya to Italy, carrying mainly men in their 20s. They had been traveling for several days and had been approached by a Maltese cargo ship on Tuesday afternoon, which supplied them with food and water. Survivors estimated that there were as many as 500 to 700 people onboard, surpassing the boat’s intended capacity. Regional health director Yiannis Karvelis warned of an unprecedented tragedy.
Survivors have been transported to the town of Kalamata, where they received medical treatment for hypothermia and minor injuries. Authorities have detained three individuals suspected of being traffickers and are currently interrogating them. The nationalities of the victims have not yet been announced. Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou expressed her condolences to those who lost their lives and visited some of the survivors.
This incident sheds light on the ongoing migration crisis in the Mediterranean, where hundreds of people perish each year while attempting to cross to Europe. Greece, as one of the main entry points to the European Union for refugees and migrants from various regions, has called for a comprehensive and solid migration policy from the EU. Last month, the Greek government faced international criticism over video footage showing the alleged forceful expulsion of migrants left adrift at sea. With over 70,000 refugees and migrants having arrived in Europe’s frontline countries this year, the need for a unified and humane approach to migration remains critical.