79 dead after boat with refugees and migrants sinks off Greece

At least 79 people have died and many more are feared missing after a fishing boat carrying refugees and migrants capsized and sank off the southern coast of Greece – one of the worst such disasters this year.

The Greek coastguard said in a statement on Wednesday the vessel sank in international waters, 47 nautical miles (87km) southwest of Pylos, off the Peloponnese coast. The spot is close to one of the deepest areas of the Mediterranean.

Rescuers saved 104 passengers – including Egyptians, Syrians, Pakistanis, Afghans and Palestinians – and recovered 79 bodies.

The search continued early on Thursday for more survivors, with aircraft dropping flares to help search teams.

“It’s one of the biggest [such] operations ever in the Mediterranean,” Greek coastguard spokesman Nikos Alexiou told state ERT TV.

“We won’t stop looking,” he said.

The sinking could be one of the worst ever recorded on the feared central Mediterranean migration route, which is the world’s deadliest.

Ioannis Zafiropoulos, deputy mayor of the southern port city of Kalamata, where survivors were taken, said his information indicated there were “more than 500 people” on board.

Six coastguard vessels, a navy frigate, a military transport and an air force helicopter, as well as several private vessels, were taking part in the search for those missing overnight.

An aerial photograph of the battered blue vessel released by the coastguard showed a large number of people covering practically every inch of deck.

This undated handout image provided by Greece’s coast guard on Wednesday, June14, 2023, shows scores of people on a battered fishing boat that later capsized and sank off southern Greece. A fishing boat carrying migrants trying to reach Europe capsized and sank off Greece on Wednesday, authorities said, leaving at least 79 dead and many more missing in one of the worst disasters of its kind this year.(Hellenic Coast Guard via AP)
This undated handout image provided by Greece’s coastguard on June 14, 2023, shows a large number of people on a battered fishing boat that later capsized and sank off southern Greece [Hellenic Coast Guard via AP]

Coastguard spokesman Alexiou told state ERT TV it appeared that the 25- to 30-metre (80- to 100-foot) vessel capsized after people abruptly moved to one side.

“The outer deck was full of people, and we presume the interior [of the vessel] would also have been full,” he said. “It looks as if there was a shift among the people who were crammed on board, and it capsized.”

Greek authorities cannot confirm reports the boat had an estimated 700-750 people on board, the spokesman for Greece’s caretaker government, Ilias Siakantaris, told ERT.

“We do not know what was in the hold … but we know that several smugglers lock people up to maintain control,” said Siakantaris.