The number of confirmed deaths after a refugee boat sank off the coast of Greece has reached 79.
It’s unclear how many people were on board the boat, but initial reports said there were hundreds on board when it capsized.
The fishing boat sank miles off the coast of Greece on Wednesday, and coastguards, navy, merchant ships and planes continued a search and rescue operation overnight.
An aerial photo released by the Greek Coast Guard showed dozens of people covering virtually every inch of the ship’s deck – and it is believed to have capsized after people abruptly sidestepped.
Greece’s Acting Prime Minister Ioannis Sarmas declared three days of national mourning, “with our thoughts to all the victims of the ruthless smugglers who take advantage of people’s misfortunes”.
Coastguard spokesman Nikos Alexiou told local TV: “The outside deck was full of people and we assume the inside (of the ship) would have been full too.”
“It looks like there was a shift among the people crammed on board and it capsized.”
Rescue attempts were reportedly rebuffed by the boat’s passengers, who insisted they continue to Italy.
Ioannis Zafiropoulos, deputy mayor of the southern port city of Kalamata, where survivors were taken, said there could have been “more than 500 people” on board.
The boat sank about 45 miles southwest of southern Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula, near the deepest point of the Mediterranean Sea, which could complicate the search for the sunken vessel.
Twenty-five survivors were hospitalized, and another 70 were housed in a large warehouse in Kalamata with donated sleeping bags and blankets.
The Coast Guard said no one on the ship had life jackets on and many of the people pulled from the water could not swim.
So far, 79 bodies have been recovered.
The boat is believed to have traveled to Italy from the Tobruk region of eastern Libya.
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