Dozens more feared dead in Egypt migrant boat tragedy

Witnesses spoke of the harrowing moment their vessel, carrying up to 450 people, keeled over due to overcrowding, as well as the agonising hours-long wait for help to arrive.
Migrants who were rescued from a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean Sea rest in Al Beheira, Egypt, on September 22, 2016. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters
Migrants who were rescued from a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean Sea rest in Al Beheira, Egypt, on September 22, 2016. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

ROSETTA, EGYPT // Rescuers brought more bodies to shore on Thursday a day after a boat crowded with migrants capsized off the coast of Egypt, drowning at least 55 people, as Egyptian authorities arrested four people in connection with the deaths.

Survivors said up to 450 migrants were on board the fishing vessel when it sank about 12 kilometres off the coast of Rosetta, an Egyptian Mediterranean port city, on Wednesday morning.

The military has said 163 survivors have been rescued so far, with a health ministry official saying 55 bodies had been retrieved.

A military boat brought bodies to shore on Thursday, laying them out in body bags. One contained the corpse of a child. His grandfather recognised him and knelt next to the body, in shock.

Rescuers said search operations would focus on the boat’s cold storage room where witnesses said around 100 people sought refuge as the vessel flipped over.

“The death toll is going to rise,” a medical source said. “On the boat there is a hold used to store fish. It hasn’t been opened and there must be a lot of people inside.”

The deadly accident comes months after the EU’s border agency Frontex warned that growing numbers of migrants bound for Europe were turning to Egypt as a departure point for the dangerous sea journey.

Traffickers often overload the boats, some of them scarcely seaworthy, with passengers who have paid for the crossing.

Officials said four members of the vessel’s crew were remanded in police custody for four days pending further investigation. They face charges of human trafficking and manslaughter.

Authorities also issued arrest warrants for five more people wanted in connection with the tragedy, according to the officials.

On a beach near Rosetta on Thursday, a small crowd gathered with some reading verses from the Quran and others desperately seeking information on relatives who may have been on board.

Witnesses spoke of the harrowing moment their vessel keeled over due to overcrowding, as well as the agonising hours-long wait for help to arrive.

“There was 200 of us and the boat was already full, 200 more then arrived. The boat tilted to the side then began to sink,” said Ahmed Mohamed, a 27-year-old Egyptian.

“It was like the apocalypse. Everyone tried to get out alive. I swam for 10 kilometres.”

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

Published: September 22, 2016 04:00 AM

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