The sinking of a boat full of migrants off the coast of Greece could be the “worst tragedy” in the Mediterranean, EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson said.
There were dozens of people were killed And hundreds more went missing earlier this week when a boat traveling from the Libyan coastal city of Tobruk to Italy capsized off the coast of Greece. The true toll of the disaster is still unclear.
“We don’t have all the information about what happened, but it looks like the worst tragedy we’ve seen in the Mediterranean,” he told a news conference in Brussels on Friday.
Each year, tens of thousands of migrants fleeing war, persecution, climate change and the risk of poverty have drawn a spotlight on the EU’s refugee crisis.
Johansson condemned the role of “smugglers” who ferry people onto boats. “They are not sending them to Europe, they are sending them to death. This is what they are doing and it is absolutely necessary to prevent it,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we saw this coming, because since the beginning of this year, there was a new operating system with these fishing boats leaving from the eastern part of Libya… and this year we saw a 600% increase in these departures,” he said, stressing the need to find different ways to fight smugglers and save lives. .
“When it comes to fighting traffickers, we can’t rely on just one way of doing it. We have to use intelligence — we have to use common police investigations with countries of origin, with countries of transit, with countries of departure,” he said.
Other global organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called for “urgent and decisive action” to prevent further deaths in the Mediterranean, and “stressed the obligation to rescue people in distress at sea without delay . . .”
Greek authorities have faced criticism over how the disaster was handled.
On Friday, they denied claims that the boat capsized as the Coast Guard tried to tow it to shore.
Officials initially said the Coast Guard kept its distance, but after they threw a rope to the vessel to “check if assistance was needed” their assistance was “declined”.
Speaking to Greek national broadcaster ERT, government spokesman Ilias Siakanderis said the coast guard arrived two hours before the boat capsized due to engine failure and there was no connection between the two.
“The engine broke down at 1:40 am and it sank at 2:00 am – so there can be no connection (between the time the Coast Guard approached the boat and the time it sank),” he told ERT.
“One rope was only used to supply two merchant ships. A rope was used when the coast guard approached, not a rope,” he added. “Those on board took the rope for a few minutes, then threw it overboard and continued their journey.”
“A rope was thrown to them to reach, stabilize and check if they needed help – they refused and continued on their journey.”
Tarek Aldroobi, who had three relatives on board, told CNN that he saw Greek authorities towing the ship with ropes, but says they were tied in the “wrong places” – and it capsized.
“Their boat was in good condition and the Greek navy tried to tow them to the beach, but the ropes were tied in the wrong places,” Altrubi said. “The boat capsized when the Greek navy tried to tow them away.”
CNN has reached out to Greek authorities about the allegations.
A massive search and rescue operation ensued, and rescue workers managed to save some. Egyptians, Syrians, Pakistanis and Palestinians were among those saved.
More than 100 people were rescued and at least 78 died, with some reports putting the number on board at 750.
Relatives of those on board are now present Searching hard For survivors.
Ayman Abu Mahmoud, a spokesman for the Horan Free League, the largest media activist group in the southwestern Syrian city of Deraa, told CNN that one of the survivors said the boat had broken down and that Greek guards were trying to tow the boat to safety. With a rope.”
“As they were pulling away, the boat tipped over on its side and disaster struck,” Abu Mahmoud said.
“The coast guard boat went 3 kilometers after it sank and those who could swim that distance reached it,” he said, quoting a survivor.