115 bodies retrieved from boat which capsized off Egypt

Authorities pulled at least 115 bodies from the Mediterranean Sea by Friday, two days after a boat carrying around 600 refugees capsized off the Egyptian coast.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A refugee is seen after he was rescued from an overcrowded dinghy by members of the German NGO Jugend Rettet during an operation in the Mediterranean Sea, September 21, 2016.

Updated Sep 23, 2016

At least 115 bodies were retrieved by Friday from a refugee boat that capsized off Egyptian coast two days ago, Egyptian officials told the Associated Press.

The boat carrying around 600 refugees to Europe capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Burg Rashid, a village in the northern Beheira Province.

It is unclear where the boat was headed, but officials said it was heading for Italy.

The cause of the incident is still unclear but officials believe that the the boat sank because it was overloaded.

There were Egyptian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Somalian citizens among the passengers.

So far, more than 150 people have been saved by Egyptian rescue workers and fishermen, while four crew members were arrested.

A member of the German NGO Jugend Rettet helps a refugee remove his life jacket after he was rescued from an overcrowded dinghy during an operation in the Mediterranean Sea, September 21, 2016.

More and more people have been trying to cross to Italy from the African coastline over the summer months, particularly from Libya, where people-traffickers operate with relative impunity, but also from Egypt.

The incident comes months after the head of the EU's border agency warned that growing numbers of Europe-bound refugees were turning to Egypt as a departure point for the perilous journey.

Smugglers often overload the boats, some of them scarcely seaworthy, with passengers who have paid for the journey.

More than 10,000 people have died crossing the Mediterranean to Europe since 2014, according to the UN.

With the closure of the Balkans route popular with refugees seeking to reach northern European countries, as well as an EU deal with Turkey to halt departures, asylum seekers have been turning to other options.

People gather along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea during a search for victims after a refugee boat capsized, in Al-Beheira, Egypt, September 21, 2016.

"Egypt is starting to become a departure country," Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri said in an interview with the Funke group of German regional newspapers in June.

"The number of boat crossings from Egypt to Italy has reached 1,000 so far this year," Leggeri said.

Deadliest Year for Refugees

More than 300,000 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year from various points of departure, the UN said this week.

The number is down from 520,000 in the first nine months of 2015.

Despite the lower numbers attempting the dangerous sea crossing, fatality rates have risen, with 2016 on track to be "the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean Sea," said the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

In June, a boat capsized near Sicily, drowning at least 169 refugees.

A refugee is rescued from a dinghy by members of the German NGO Jugend Rettet and a journalist during an operation in the Mediterranean Sea, September 21, 2016.

Earlier that month, a boat carrying hundreds of refugees sank off the Greek island of Crete and the bodies of 104 refugees washed up on a beach in Libya.

Different patterns have emerged in the two European countries, Greece and Italy, which receive the vast majority of refugees.

Arrivals in Italy this year stood at 130,411, on a par with the 132,000 people who landed over the same period in 2015, said the UNHCR. 

But Greece has seen 165,750 refugees land on its shores this year, a 57 percent drop against 2015 figures.

Arrivals began falling after a March deal between the European Union and Turkey on curbing refugee flows across the Mediterranean.

The European Union launched "Operation Sophia" last year to destroy smuggler boats that could be used to ferry refugees across the sea.

A EU official told AFP this month that almost 300 smuggler boats had been put out of commission in the past year.

TRTWorld and agencies