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Greece shipwreck: Hope of finding survivors fades as hundreds feared dead

The boat was carrying up to 750 people, but with the rescue efforts on its second day, hopes are fading of finding survivors
Survivors of a shipwreck stand at a warehouse at the port in Kalamata town, 15 June 2023 (AFP)
A survivors of a shipwreck sits at a warehouse at the port in Kalamata town, 15 June 2023 (AFP)

Hundreds of people are feared dead after a boat capsized off the coast of Greece on Wednesday as hope of finding survivors dwindles with search efforts entering their second day. 

At least 79 have been confirmed dead in the incident, according to Greek coastguards, while 104 have been rescued. 

The boat, which sailed off from Libya's Tobruk port, was overloaded with people trying to reach Europe and believed to have been carrying up to 750 people.

It capsized in one of the Mediterranean's deepest areas, some 80km off the coast of the southern Greek town of Pylos. 

The recovered victims' bodies were transferred to a cemetery near Athens for DNA tests on Thursday.

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Greek authorities fear that hundreds of migrants, including children, may have been trapped inside the crowded vessel's hold and drowned.

The coastguard said the search operation will continue for as long as needed.

'Worst tragedy'

A surveillance plane with Europe's Frontex agency spotted the boat on Tuesday afternoon, but the passengers had "refused any help", the coastguard said. 

Greek authorities said that it appeared the boat was heading for Italy, with none of the people onboard wearing life jackets. The authorities did not immediately disclose their nationalities.

"This could be the worst maritime tragedy in Greece in recent years," Stella Nanou of the UNHCR refugee agency told state broadcaster ERT.

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Pope Francis on Thursday said he was "deeply dismayed" by the shipwreck. 

Greece declared three days of mourning in response to the disaster, as authorities were investigating an account from a European rescue-support charity that there could have been 750 people on the 20- or 30-metre-long boat.

The UN International Organization for Migration said initial reports suggested up to 400 people were aboard.

Citing initial testimonies from survivors, Save the Children charity said around 100 children were believed to be in the vessel's hold.

"[EU] member states have gone to extraordinary lengths to close off all routes to children and their families seeking safety in Europe. Often their only option is to take dangerous journeys by boat," said Daniel Gorevan, senior advocacy adviser at the charity.

"The fact that people continue to die in the Mediterranean should be a wakeup call for EU governments," he said, warning that the Mediterranean risked becoming "the deadliest migration route in the world".

Of the 104 survivors so far transferred by the coastguard to the Greek port city of Kalamata, most were men, authorities said. They revised their overnight death toll to 78 from 79.

The worst migrant tragedy in Greece was in June 2016 when a boat capsized, leaving at least 320 people listed as dead or missing, according to AFP records going back to 1993.

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