More than 500 illegal immigrants from Syria are presumed to have drowned after their fishing vessel involved in the clandestine journey sank in the Aegean Sea offshore Greece earlier this week.
104 survivors were rescued from the sea and 78 bodies were recovered, but have not located any more since late Wednesday, local time. The United Nations’ migrant agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), estimated the boat was carrying as many as 750 people.
Hellenic Coast Guard (HCG) said the search-and-rescue operation would continue beyond the standard 72 hours.
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.
The shipwreck was the deadliest off Greece in several years.
Greece Goverment in power between an inconclusive election on May 21st and new elections on June 25th, declared three days of national mourning.
The HSG said EU border agency FRONTEX first spotted the boat last Tuesday 13th 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 U.N. refugee agency UNHCR late on Tuesday afternoon.
HCG reported that her personnel approached the vessel and offered help. But immigrants packed on her outer deck refused assistance and stated their desire to continue their voyage.
In aerial images released by the HCG, dozens of people on the boat’s upper and lower decks were looking up with outstretched arms.
A few hours later, the vessel began listing before capsizing around 0200 hrs on Wednesday 14th June then sinking, a government official said.
Timeline image – Hellenic Coast Guard/Handout