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Hundreds Feared Dead in Migrant Boat Sinking Off Greece

104 people have been rescued out of an an estimated 750 passengers

Migrant boat
Courtesy Hellenic Coast Guard

Published Jun 15, 2023 4:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

About 104 people have been rescued, 78 have been confirmed dead and hundreds more are missing after a large migrant vessel capsized off the southern coast of Greece. 

The vessel was under way on a voyage of illegal migration from Tobruk, Libya to Italy. On Tuesday morning at about 0800, the Italian rescue authorities contacted the Hellenic Coast Guard to report the movements of the migrant boat. The Greek agency reports that it offered assistance, but that the migrant vessel declined help and said that it wanted to continue onwards to Italy. 

At 1217, it issued a distress signal, and a merchant ship responded to the scene. The good samaritan ship passed over water, but the migrant boat's operator expressed concern that the situation could deteriorate with fights on board, and navigated away from the responding ship.   

A Hellenic Coast Guard vessel monitored the migrant boat from a distance from 1940 hours onwards. At 2240, the migrant boat reported that its engine had failed. Less than half an hour later, at 2304, it capsized and sank at a position about 50 miles off the Peloponnese. About 100 people were pulled from the water and transferred to shore at Kalamata. According to the Hellenic Coast Guard, none had life jackets. 

One survivor alleged that the migrant boat had been under tow by a coast guard vessel at the time of the capsizing; this account is not reflected in the official version and could not be confirmed.

As of Thursday, a large-scale search continued in hopes of finding more survivors. One patrol boat, one cutter, a frigate, nine good samaritans and two helicopters are engaged in the effort. 

The boat's decks were fully occupied by people, but according to survivors, hundreds more were belowdecks, including about 100 children. Dr Manolis Makaris, head of the Kalamata General Hospital, told BBC that the rescued migrants reported that there had been 750 people on board, suggesting that as many as 600 may have died in the casualty. 

The fare for the transit was reportedly in the range of $5,000 per migrant, suggesting a $3 million-plus revenue opportunity for the smugglers. 11 individuals have been arrested on charges of helping to orchestrate the voyage.