Sun, Jun 05, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Boat capsizes off Crete, killing at least four people

DEADLY CROSSING:The latest Mediterranean disaster follows the sinking of three ships over a three-day period, in which the UN believes about 700 people drowned

NY Times News Service, LONDON

At least four people died and about 340 were rescued on Friday after a boat bound for Italy capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the island of Crete, officials and humanitarian agencies said, in the latest tragedy at sea as refugees try desperately to reach Europe.

The Greek Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy said that two Hellenic Coast Guard vessels and three helicopters had been sent to scour the area for more survivors.

More than 1,000 refugees and migrants might have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe over a recent eight-day period, the International Organization for Migration reported on Tuesday, and the deaths on Friday, which occurred about 75 nautical miles (139km) south of Crete, add to the toll of suffering.

The migration organization said that the capsized boat was believed to have been carrying 700 people and was thought to have left from Egypt. Greek officials said the boat had overturned in international waters that were under Egypt’s authority.

The Italian Coast Guard said in a statement that it had alerted the Egyptian authorities to the capsizing on Thursday, but that the Egyptians had declined to take charge of a rescue operation because the site was not in its jurisdiction.

The Italians then turned to Greece and sent a message to all vessels in the area.

Five Greek ships were near where the boat capsized, and they were joined by the Hellenic Coast Guard vessels and helicopters, Greek officials said.

A merchant ship reported at 7:20am on Friday that the vessel had capsized, the Italian Coast Guard said.

The Egyptian military, which includes the Coast Guard, declined to comment and referred all inquiries to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying “the military is not a decisionmaker.”

In turn, Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid referred questions to the military, saying he had no knowledge of the event or of the Italian request for help.

The mixed response from Egypt highlighted the struggle that Europe is facing in the worsening crisis, with refugees and migrants often risking their lives trying to reach the continent.

The events on Friday came after one of the deadliest periods in recent memory in the Mediterranean, during which three ships sank over three days. At least 700 people are believed to have drowned, according to the UN refugee agency.

Those deaths could push the toll for the year to more than 2,000, and with summer approaching, concerns are growing that human trafficking along the North African coastline will intensify.

Those fears were underscored on Friday, when the spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent said that the number of people who died when a boat capsized off the Libyan shore on Wednesday had risen to 107, including 40 women and five children.

Until recently, most refugees and migrants heading to Europe had traveled from Turkey to Greece, seeking entry into the EU. From there, they often traveled through the Balkans to destinations in Western and Northern Europe, most frequently to Germany.

Balkan countries like Macedonia that are poorly equipped to deal with the influx have shut their borders, however, and Turkey has reached a deal with the EU to help cut the flow of migrants across the Aegean Sea. The result is that many have been seeking alternative, often more perilous, routes.

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