Greece boat crash: 100 children trapped on capsized boat – reports

image source, Hellenic Coast Guard

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Greece’s coast guard released pictures of the overcrowded boat before it went down

Survivors of a fishing boat that sank off southern Greece in one of Europe’s worst migrant disasters say there may have been up to 100 children on board.

At least 78 people have already been confirmed dead in the disaster.

But many more are still missing at sea, with reports suggesting up to 750 people were on board.

The country’s coast guard has previously been criticized for not intervening, but officials say they have been denied their assistance.

Rescuers are still scouring the Greek seabed in a major search operation as hope of finding more survivors dwindles.

Traumatic accounts of the large numbers of women and children traveling in the ship’s hold came mostly from the doctors who treated the male survivors.

Kalamata Hospital doctor Manolis Makaris told local reporters that after giving his phone to one of the survivors, the man spoke about the number of children being held – perhaps 100.

Another reporter from Greece’s ANT1 channel asked a survivor if there were 100 children on board, to which the survivor replied: “Yes.”

The charity Save the Children also gave the same number, citing testimonies from survivors.

The BBC could not independently verify this figure.

But government spokesman Ilias Siakantaris said there were unconfirmed reports that up to 750 people were on board.

“We don’t know what was in the hold… but we know that many kidnappers lock people up to maintain control,” he told broadcaster ERT.

Activist Nawal Choubi was the first to raise the alarm after being contacted by those on the boat on Tuesday morning. He also believes there were about 750 people on board.

The Greek coast guard said the boat went down about 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Pylos shortly after 02:04 a.m. local time on Wednesday.

A timeline provided by the Coast Guard indicated that initial contact with the fishing boat was made at 14:00 (11:00 GMT) the previous day, and no request for assistance was made.

The Greek Shipping Ministry has been in contact with the boat several times and is said to want to sail to Italy. A Maltese-flagged ship delivered food and water at 18:00, and another boat delivered water three hours later.

Then at 01:40 on Wednesday, a person on the boat reportedly notified the Greek Coast Guard that the vessel’s engine had malfunctioned.

In no time, the boat capsized and sank completely within 10 to 15 minutes. A search and rescue operation was initiated but complicated by high winds.

A Coast Guard spokesperson told ERT that the boat’s engine malfunctioned in the early hours of Wednesday morning, after which the occupants started moving around, causing it to capsize. All those rescued were men, he said.

The alarm phone, an emergency helpline for migrants in trouble at sea, received the first call from the boat an hour after the Coast Guard was first contacted on Tuesday.

In a Facebook post, Ms Soufi said the situation became “complicated” when a rescue boat approached the vessel and tied a rope to it as it threw water bottles.

He said some people on board were in “extreme danger” because of fears the dinghy would capsize and that fights on board for water could cause it to capsize. The boat then moved from there.

Ms Soufi said she had been in contact with those on board until 23:00 local time and was assuring them that the Greek Coast Guard would rescue them.

In his final call, a man told him: “I have a feeling this will be our last night”.

He said people have “no intention of continuing” to Italy and “absolutely need help with water”.

There may be conflicting accounts as the Coast Guard spoke to the crew, while Ms Soufi and the alarm phone spoke to those on board.

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WATCH: Survivors flee to safety after Greece ferry disaster

The alarm phone complaint said the Coast Guard “knew several hours in advance that the vessel was in distress” and that authorities were “informed by various sources” that the boat was in trouble.

People may have been afraid to meet with Greek officials because they were aware of the country’s “cruel and systematic pushback practices.”

The organization later tweeted that questions should be aimed at European officials.

“Ask them why, despite all these hours of knowing their misery, there was insufficient rescue capacity. Ask them why they prefer to blame the dead and the survivors rather than answer the challenging questions about their failure to save.”

Jérôme Tubiana of Médecins Sans Frontières told French radio that European and Greek authorities should have intervened earlier.

“It’s shocking to hear that the Frontex flew over the boat and nobody intervened because the boat refused all offers of help … an overloaded boat is a boat in distress.”

Italy’s interior minister told SkyTG24 that the disaster occurred “in Greece’s search and rescue area, under that country’s specific responsibility”.

Greece observes three days of mourning for the disaster.

Campaigning has been suspended ahead of the June 25 parliamentary elections and a televised debate between the frontrunners scheduled for Thursday has been cancelled.

Greece is one of the main routes to the EU for refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Last month, the Greek government came under international criticism over video footage showing the forced evacuation of migrants adrift at sea.

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