Greek migrant tragedy death toll rises, suspects detained

By Karolina Tagaris

MALAKASA, Greece (Reuters) -The suspected smugglers of scores of migrants who drowned in a Mediterranean Sea shipwreck last week are expected to answer manslaughter charges in a Greek court this week, while Pakistan detained a dozen suspects over the disaster.

Greece recovered two more bodies on Monday, bringing the confirmed toll to 80, after a fishing boat packed with hundreds of migrants sank of its south-west coast last week in a journey which started from Libya and was supposed to end in Italy.

Only 104 people are known to have survived.

Lawyers for nine suspected smugglers held by Greece, all from Egypt, sought and were approved a postponement of their arraignment hearing to Tuesday morning, the semi-official Athens News Agency said.

One of the lawyers said his client denied he was a smuggler, saying he was instead a victim who had paid to be taken to Italy.

“He left his country looking for a better life in Europe because of economic difficulties,” said the lawyer, Athanasios Iliopoulos.

Greece was still scouring the sea on Monday, though the chance of finding more survivors was seen as virtually nil. The boat sank in some of the deepest waters of the Mediterranean.

The victims are thought to be from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt. Hundreds more are feared dead.

Greece has come under increasing scrutiny over its response to the disaster, which occurred even though the boat had been shadowed by its coastguard for several hours.

Pakistan declared a national day of mourning on Monday, after counting at least 21 victims from the Koti district in the Pakistan-administered area of the Himalayan Kashmir region. It said an initial investigation suggested the boat was carrying around 800 people.

Other estimates have said at least 400 people were aboard.

Fourteen people in Pakistan have been arrested on suspicion of alleged trafficking.


The boat is thought to have set off with passengers from the Libyan coastal city of Tobruk on June 10.

Greek authorities say the vessel, which they had monitored for about 15 hours after being alerted by Italy, flipped and capsized about 25 minutes after its engine stalled in the early hours of June 14.

Authorities said the vessel repeatedly refused Greek help, saying it wanted to go to Italy.

Alarm Phone, an advocacy group that was in communication with the vessel, said that on at least two occasions people on board pleaded for help. The group said it alerted Greek authorities and aid agencies hours before the disaster unfolded.

Greek authorities also denied reports the vessel was stationary for hours, saying that it had sailed a distance of about 30 nautical miles from its detection to its sinking.

Over a 15 hour period, that would suggest the boat going at a crawl.

Relatives have been turning up outside a migrant facility north of Athens since survivors were brought there on Friday, showing photos of the missing through the camp gates, in the hopes someone might recognise them.

“I’m looking for my brother. I want to see where the boat sunk to try to find him,” said 54-year-old Mohamed El Sayed El-Dadamony Radwan, who travelled from Germany, after reuniting with a nephew who survived.

Radwan showed a photo of his missing brother on his phone.

“I want to look for him because I can’t find (his name), not in the hospital records of those who perished or in the list of those who survived,” he said.

On Sunday, there was an emotional reunion for Syrian teenager Mohammad Hadhoud, 18, who survived the wreck, and his elder brother Fadi, who had first spotted each other through a metal barricade in the coastal city of Kalamata on Friday.

At Malakasa, Mohammad sprinted into his brother’s open arms as they both sobbed, holding each other for several moments. Fadi said their brother-in-law died in the shipwreck.

Others had yet to receive news of loved ones.

“My uncle was with me on the same boat, the boat that capsized. I am looking for my uncle but I can’t find him,” said 22-year-old Egyptian survivor Atia Al Said.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Additional reporting by Abu Arqam Naqash in Muzaffarabad; writing by Michele Kambas Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)