Egypt raised the wreck of a migrant boat Tuesday and recovered at least 33 bodies, taking to 202 the death toll from last week’s sinking off the country’s Mediterranean coast.
Survivors said up to 450 migrants had been crowded aboard the fishing trawler when it keeled over off the port city of Rosetta on September 14, including an estimated 100 in its hold.
The Egyptian military said 163 people had been rescued, meaning the boat would have had at least 365 people on board when it went down en route to Italy, according to official figures.
On Tuesday divers and a salvage vessel belonging to a petroleum company pulled the trawler to the surface some 12 kilometres (eight miles) offshore.
“The boat is being dragged to shore” after bodies trapped in the hold were recovered, Wahdan al-Sayed, spokesman for Beheira province in northern Egypt, told AFP.
Sixteen of the 33 bodies retrieved on Tuesday had been handed over to their relatives, while the rest were still being identified, said the health ministry.
On Monday, police detained the owner of the vessel.
A judicial source said he could face charges of human trafficking and involuntary manslaughter.
The United Nations’ refugee agency said Friday that most of those rescued were Egyptians but they also included migrants from Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and Ethiopians.
“Since 2014, there has been a steady increase in the number of interceptions of refugees and migrants trying to leave Egypt in an irregular manner,” said the UNHCR.
“Many refugees and migrants may be using Egypt as a transit country,” it said, adding 2016 was expected to be the deadliest year on record for Mediterranean crossings by migrants.
3,501 dead or missing
The International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday that 3,501 migrants and refugees have died or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year.
The figure is almost six times that for the same period in 2015.
“At this rate, 2016 will be the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean Sea,” the UN refugee agency said late last week.
“Increasing mixed migration flows through Egypt are of major concern to UNHCR. The loss of life faced by refugees and migrants on Mediterranean smuggling routes has increased,” said the UNHCR.
It added that “a significant number of unaccompanied minors have been recorded” on the Egypt-Italy route.
Overall, 302,149 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea this year as of 25 September, with most of them arriving in Greece and Italy, said the IOM.
More than 10,000 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe since 2014, according to the United Nations.
Egyptian authorities have so far this year foiled 110 attempts to smuggle migrants to Europe, said Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar.
More than 4,600 non-Egyptians, many of them Sudanese and Ethiopians, have been arrested this year trying to depart from Egypt’s northern coast, the UNHCR said.