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Greece Boat Disaster: Up To 500 People Still Missing Says UN

According to the UN refugee agency, up to 500 people are still missing from a crowded migrant boat that capsized off the coast of Greece.

According to spokesman Jeremy Laurence, several women and children were among those missing in the “horrific tragedy” that claimed 78 lives.

He continued that the horrific loss of life highlighted the importance of prosecuting human smugglers.

But it also stated unequivocally that maritime search and rescue was a “legal and humanitarian imperative”.

The refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration stated in a joint statement that any search and rescue operation had to be carried out to avoid human casualties.

The job of the coastguard has come under more and more scrutiny ever since a fishing boat carrying up to 750 people capsized 50 nautical miles off the coast of Pylos in southern Greece.

Greece Boat Disaster: Up To 500 People Still Missing Says UN

A “thorough investigation of the real facts and technical judgements” will be conducted, according to Greece’s acting prime minister Ioannis Sarmas, to ascertain what caused the boat to capsize.

Greek officials have refuted a number of reports that claim it sank after 2:00 on Wednesday because the coast guards tied a rope. Two of the 104 people who survived the wreck have spoken of how the crammed boat swung to one side and then the other.

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The coastguard initially claimed that it had maintained a “discreet distance” from the yacht. But later, according to a source cited by the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, the coastguard tied a rope to the boat so that its crew could assess the situation and individuals on board before untying it to continue sailing towards Italy.

Three hours before the boat capsized, at around 23:00, that incident is thought to have occurred.

Friday’s statement by government spokesperson Ilias Siakantaris that the coastguard had “used a rope to steady themselves, to approach, and to see if they wanted any help” was confirmed.

However, he emphasised that “there was no mooring rope,” indicating that no attempt had been made to tow or tether the boat for any length of time.

They declined it, saying, “No help, we’re going to Italy,” and they continued travelling.

A refugee activist originally questioned whether a rope had been fastened to the migrant boat, claiming that others on board had expressed concern that it might cause their incredibly crowded boat to capsize.

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The coastguard stressed that its patrol boat had briefly “dropped a small rope on to the fishing vessel to find out the current condition of the boat and passengers”.

The patrol “moved away to watch from a close distance” while some of those on board untied it to continue travelling north to Italy.

The tragedy’s date and story, however, have been under scrutiny since it started. The coastguard has emphasised that no requests for aid were made from the crew from the time it initially made contact with them and that additional, repeated offers of assistance were also declined.

Alarm Phone, a group that assists migrants at sea, alerted the coastguard and other parties through email on Tuesday afternoon that there could be as many as 750 individuals on board and that they needed assistance immediately.

According to two survivor stories, attaching a rope to the fishing boat may have caused it to sink.

One came from a city council member in the port city of Kalamata who had previously spoken to a Syrian man, aged 24.

“The coast guard boat tried to drag them to the left while tying them up with some rope. The boat suddenly veered to the right and sank for an unexplained reason, according to Tasos Polychronopoulos.

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During a visit to Kalamata on Thursday, another survivor gave the former prime minister Alexis Tsipras a similar account.

Translation: “The Greek coastguard asked the vessel to follow them, but they couldn’t,” the interpreter told Mr. Tsipras. The coast guard then threw a rope, but because they were unable to pull it, the boat began to swing left and right.

The ship was already dangling to the left as the coast guard boat approached, which is how it sank.

Greek TV reports that nine people, including several Egyptians, have been detained on suspicion of trafficking in persons.

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