Greece has declared three days of national mourning after a fishing boat carrying hundreds of migrants and refugees capsized and sank off its southern coast on Wednesday, killing at least 78 people. The disaster is the deadliest such episode off the country’s shores since the 2015 migrant crisis, and there were fears that the toll would rise as hundreds more were missing.
The boat, which was thought to have been going from Libya to Italy, sank about 80 km southwest of Pylos after its engine malfunctioned. The Greek coastguard said it had made repeated contact with the boat and offered assistance, but the crew had refused and wanted to sail on to Italy. The coastguard also said it had provided food and water to the boat, which was spotted by the EU’s border agency Frontex on Tuesday afternoon.
However, some survivors and activists have accused the Greek authorities of not doing enough to help and of delaying the rescue operation. They also claimed that the boat was overcrowded and that many people, including children, were trapped in the hold. Some survivors said there were as many as 750 people on board, while others said there were around 400.
The Greek government has launched an investigation into the incident and arrested nine Egyptians who were allegedly involved in smuggling the migrants. The survivors, most of whom are believed to be men in their 20s from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have been transferred to a warehouse in Kalamata, where they are receiving medical and humanitarian aid.
The shipwreck off Pylos marks one of the largest sea tragedies in the Mediterranean in recent memory. According to the UNHCR, more than 1,000 people have died or gone missing while trying to cross the sea this year.