Death toll climbs above 160 after migrant boat capsizes off coast of Egypt

Posted at 8:15 PM, Sep 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-23 22:15:38-04

By Sarah Sirgany, Ian Lee and Laura Smith-Spark


CAIRO (CNN) — At least 162 people drowned when a migrant boat capsized this week off the coast of Egypt, state media Ahram Online reported Friday.

The overloaded boat bound for Italy was believed to have been carrying 450 migrants when it overturned Wednesday. Only 164 have been rescued and many more are feared missing.

A local fisherman told CNN his boat retrieved dozens of bodies Friday morning.

“There aren’t enough ambulances or body bags,” Mohamed Abassi said.

Naval forces on Friday afternoon pulled 107 bodies from the Mediterranean and they expect more, authorities said.

Some family members blocked a highway, asking authorities to step up efforts to retrieve the bodies.

“If the bodies spent more time in the water, people won’t be able to identify them,” Abassi said.

Survivors of the shipwreck described awful scenes to CNN of friends and family members drowning in the Mediterranean.

Some relatives of those on the boat asked why it took several hours for coast guard rescue ships to reach the scene, saying local fishermen had come to their aid first.

Four crew members were arrested Thursday over the sinking of the boat, state media reported. The men were detained on possible charges of human trafficking and involuntary manslaughter. One is the owner of the vessel.

The boat had set off from Egypt and was heading for Italy when it was found Wednesday afternoon 12 nautical miles northeast of Rashid — also known as Rosetta — in El Beheira governorate.

Many of those on board were from Egypt, Eritrea and Somalia, according to survivors.

The Egyptian military has regularly announced efforts to combat illegal immigration. On the same day the boat capsized near Rashid, the coast guard foiled an illegal immigration attempt, rescuing 294 on board a boat off the shore of El-Alamein, according to a military statement.

As Libya — a popular jumping-off point for migrants seeking to reach Europe from North Africa — becomes increasingly dangerous, more people may attempt to make the journey from Egypt’s shores, instead.

Journalist Sarah Sirgany reported from Cairo; CNN’s Ian Lee reported from Istanbul, and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London.