Reports estimate as many as 750 people were crowded on the fishing boat, far exceeding its capacity, headed from Libya to Italy.
Tragedy befell a fishing boat carrying refugees and migrants from Greece to Italy when it capsized and sank some 47 nautical miles (about 54 miles) south of the Greek town of Pylos. The full scope of the disaster has yet to be revealed, as authorities have yet to pin down exactly how many people were on the boat.
Reports vary about the number of victims, with some citing as few as 400 and others suggesting as many as 750 people may have been crammed on the boat, far exceeding its capacity. As of Wednesday afternoon, only about 100 survivors had been rescued, with 78 pulled from the waters already deceased. Not one of those who were discovered, alive or dead, was found wearing a life jacket. Officials fear the number of deceased will rise significantly in the coming days.
According to Al Jazeera, a massive rescue operation is underway that has drawn on six coastguard vessels, a navy frigate, a military transport, and an air force helicopter. Even some private vessels have joined in the search effort where every second counts. The fear is that the sunken ship took hundreds of souls down with it.
Greek authorities have launched an investigation of the incident, tracking the ship from the eastern coast of Libya to Greece. The vessel would have next headed to Italy when the incident occurred. While Al Jazeera describes the incident as an accident, it is unknown exactly what caused the ship to capsize, but it is suggested that it may have been due to how drastically overloaded the boat was.
What is known so far paints a picture of a chaotic string of events that started with a distress call made to the NGO service Alarm Phone. CNN reports that the initial call was hard to understand, but it was expressed that the boat was out of fresh water and passengers feared they would not last the night. The captain reportedly left the ship three hours after the first emergency call.
In the afternoon, the ship was approached by a merchant vessel that provided them with water and food, but the fishing boat refused further help from a second merchant vessel later that evening. The ship was also approached by the coast guard, which confirmed a large number of people on board. The fishing boat refused assistance from the coast guard, however, which could do little besides let them pass in international waters.
One more emergency call was placed around 1 am, which only said “Hello my friend … The ship you send is …” before it was cut off. This was the last communication with the fishing boat before it was lost.
In the first half of 2023, the number of people who have risked the dangerous Mediterranean waters more than doubled the 2022 total, surpassing 36,000. Greece has been at the center of this migration crisis, as routes from Africa, Asia, and the Middle east to Europe all pass through the Greek isles.