In one of this year’s worst Mediterranean Sea disasters, more than 700 migrants were aboard a vessel that capsized off the coast of the Greek Island of Crete late Thursday, and despite rescue operations that managed to save 340 lives, hundreds are still missing.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that the vessel had left Africa with at least 700 migrants on board. As of midday Friday, 117 corpses had been recovered, most of which washed up on shores of western Libya, but it is feared that this is just a fraction of the significant death toll.
Greek media reported that the boat began to sink in international waters some 75 miles south of the Cretan port of Kalo Limeni. It is supposed that the vessel was headed for Italy.
An Italian merchant ship spotted the foundering craft late Thursday afternoon and radioed for help, but as of midday Friday rescue operations were still ongoing under the auspices of Greek Authorities.
Although Egyptian authorities in Cairo were alerted to the ship’s distress, they did not intervene, believing the craft’s position to be outside their area of responsibility.
A spokesman for the Libyan “Red Crescent,” Mohamed Misrati, said that of the 117 bodies recovered in Libya, including those of 70 women and five children, some may be from other sea disasters and it is not clear exactly where they drowned.
According to “Migrant Report,” a site specializing in immigration, some of the corpses are showing “signs of advanced decomposition,” which would suggest that they died prior to the recent sea calamity.
So far this year some 204,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
Prior to Thursday’s calamity some 2,510 lives had been lost in the Mediterranean in 2016, compared to 1,855 in the same period in 2015.
“The odds of being among the dead are currently one in 81,” said William Spindler, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The route from North Africa to Italy is proving to be considerably more perilous than the other Mediterranean routes, with 2,119 of the deaths reported thus far in 2016 resulting among people making that journey.
Of the 46,714 migrants travelling to Italy this year, one in 23 has died.
Europe is currently undergoing its worst migration crisis since World War II, with well over a million migrants entering the continent last year and similar projections for the year in progress.
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