79 migrants die in shipwreck Greece

At least 79 people have died and dozens more are missing off the southern coast of Greece after a fishing boat with migrants on board capsized, authorities said Wednesday. It is one of the worst tragedies of its kind so far this year.

Coast Guard, navy and merchant ships, as well as air vehicles, have launched an extensive search and rescue operation that will continue through the night. It is not yet known how many passengers are missing, but initial reports suggest hundreds of people were on board when the ship capsized tens of kilometers offshore.

Nikos Alexiou, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, told state-run ERT TV that it was impossible to pinpoint the number of passengers. He said the 80- to 100-foot (25- to 30-meter) boat appeared to capsize after people moved abruptly to the side of the boat.

“The deck was packed with people and we presume that the interior of the ship was also full. It seems that there was a change among the people who were crowded on board and the ship capsized.”

Ioannis Zafiropoulos, deputy mayor of the port city of Kalamata, where the survivors were taken, reported that there appeared to be “more than 500 people” on board.

“The ship sank very quickly and was gone by the time the rescue helicopters arrived,” he added. “The waters where this happened are very deep.”

Authorities said they rescued 104 people after the incident occurred overnight about 75 kilometers (46 miles) southwest of the Peloponnese region of southern Greece. This point is very close to the deepest part of the Mediterranean, and this could complicate any effort to find a sunken ship.

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Twenty-five survivors, ages 16 to 49, were hospitalized with hypothermia or fever.

In a huge warehouse in the port of Kalamata, some 70 exhausted survivors were resting in sleeping bags and were handed out blankets by lifeguards, while outside paramedics set up tents for anyone who needed help.

Katerina Tsata, head of a group of Red Cross volunteers in Kalamata, reported that the migrants were also given psychological support. “They suffered a very strong blow, both physically and mentally,” she added.

Volunteer rescuer Constantinos Vlachonikolos said most of the survivors are men.

The Coast Guard reported that it had pulled 79 bodies from the water so far. The survivors include 30 people from Egypt, 10 from Pakistan, 35 from Syria and two Palestinians.

The boat, which was bound for Italy, is believed to have left the Tobruk area of ​​eastern Libya. The Italian coast guard notified the Greek authorities and the European agency Frontex for the first time on Tuesday of the presence of the fishing vessel.

Increasingly, human smugglers are taking large vessels into international waters off the Greek coast to avoid local coast guard patrols.

Ninety migrants aboard a US-flagged yacht in the area were rescued on Sunday after making a distress call.

Also on Wednesday, a yacht with more than 81 migrants on board was towed to a port on the south coast of the Greek island of Crete after authorities received a distress call.

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