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Emotional reunion amid despair as Greece searches for shipwreck survivors

June 16, 2023 at 3:43 pm

A migrant is transferred to hospital as rescued migrants find shelter at a depot, following a shipwreck offshore in Kalamata , Greece [Costas Baltas – Anadolu Agency]

A Syrian teenager, who survived a shipwreck that killed at least 78 people, was emotionally reunited with his elder brother on Friday, but there was no news for other relatives gathering in the southern Greek city of Kalamata to search for loved ones, Reuters reports.

Witness accounts suggested between 400 and 750 people had packed the 20- to 30 metre-long (65- to 100-foot) fishing boat that capsized and sank early on Wednesday morning, about 50 miles (80 km) from the southern coastal town of Pylos.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, 104 survivors and 78 people who drowned were brought to shore by Greek authorities, but nothing has been found since.

A massive search and rescue operation continued on Friday, but hopes were dwindling of finding any more survivors from the hundreds of people believed to have been on board the boat when it sank in some of the deepest waters of the Mediterranean.

Early Friday, survivor Mohammad, 18, from Syria, burst into sobs as he spotted his elder brother, Fadi, who travelled from the Netherlands searching for him.

READ: Tunisians at the forefront of migrants deported from Italy in 2022

They wept and hugged through metal barricades, erected by Greek police around a warehouse in Kalamata where survivors had been sleeping for the past two days.

“Thank God for your safety,” Fadi said, repeatedly kissing his younger sibling on the head.

About 25 other relatives gathered outside hoping for news, clasping screenshots of their loved ones on mobiles phones.

Migrants had paid $4,500 

The ageing fishing vessel was thought to have departed from Egypt, then picked up passengers in the Libyan coastal city of Tobruk on 10 June. Survivors who spoke to Greek authorities said they paid $4,500 each to go to Italy.

The exact circumstances of the vessel sinking while it was being shadowed by the Greek coastguard are still unclear.

Authorities, who were alerted by Italy on Tuesday, and subsequently monitored the vessel over a period of 15 hours before it sank, say occupants on the vessel repeatedly refused Greek help, saying they wanted to go to Italy.

An advocacy group that had been in communication with the vessel said that, on at least two occasions, persons on board pleaded for help. The group, Alarm Phone, said it had alerted Greek authorities and aid agencies hours before the disaster unfolded.

Greek authorities denied accounts that surfaced late on Thursday that the boat flipped after the coastguard attempted to tow it.

“There was no effort to tug the boat,” coastguard spokesman, Nikos Alexiou told state broadcaster, ERT.

Nine people, most of them from Egypt, were arrested over the shipwreck on Thursday evening. Authorities said they faced charges of negligent manslaughter, exposing lives to danger, causing a shipwreck and human trafficking.

Survivors were transferred by bus to a migrant camp in Malakasa, near Athens, on Friday.

Under a conservative government in power until last month, Greece took a tough stance on migration, building walled camps and boosting border controls.

The country is currently governed by a caretaker administration pending an election on 25 June.

READ: How migrant tragedy unfolded on the high seas, off Greece