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Over 100 migrant bodies washed up on Libyan beach, says navy

Authorities in Libya and Greece said on Friday they had found more than 100 bodies after two boats carrying migrants to Europe capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.

world Updated: Jun 03, 2016 17:49 IST
Greece,boat capsizes,migrants
More than 300 migrants were rescued and three bodies recovered off the Greek island of Crete after a boat carrying at least 700 people capsized.(AP File Photo)

Authorities in Libya and Greece said on Friday they had found more than 100 bodies after two boats carrying migrants to Europe capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.

Libya Navy spokesman Col Ayoub Gassim told The Associated Press that at least 104 bodies were pulled out of waters near the western city of Zwara but the expected death toll is likely to be higher since such boats usually carry up to 125 people.

He said the Libyan coast guard found the empty boat on Thursday and it was possible the vessel capsized on Wednesday.

Gassim blamed Europe for “doing nothing but counting bodies” to stop the illegal migration from Libya.

Greek authorities said they had recovered four bodies and rescued 340 people from a migrant boat that capsized south of the island of Crete.

At least 700 people were on board the 25-30 meter (82-98 foot) boat, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

“The information we have on the number of people on board the vessel is still unclear - we’ve heard that there were 400 or 500 people on board, but we cannot confirm that number,” Greek coast guard spokesman Nikos Lagadianos said.

The coast guard said the vessel, which resembled a large fishing boat, was located half-sunk about 75 nautical miles south of Crete in international waters, and within Egypt’s search and rescue area of operation.

Greece sent two patrol vessels, a military airplane and three helicopters, while five passing ships also participated in the rescue operation. The Greek coast guard said the operation was continuing to locate any potentially missing passengers from the boat.

It was not immediately clear where the boat’s passengers were from, or where the vessel had set off from or was heading to.

This was the second migrant boat found in the same area of the southern Aegean Sea since last week, indicating people smugglers may be forging a possible new route.

The discovery of the bodies off the Libyan and Greek coasts were the latest in a string of tragedies that have claimed more than 1,000 lives as desperate migrants embark on treacherous sea journeys seeking a better life in Europe.

Migrant smugglers have opted for more dangerous routes after a March agreement between the European Union and Turkey to stem the flow of refugees. The short crossing from the Turkish coast to Greek islands was the preferred route for migrants heading to Europe until Balkan countries closed their borders.

Under the deal with Turkey, those arriving on Greek islands from March 20 onwards face deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece, a financially troubled country few migrants or refugees want to stay in.

The deal has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of people arriving on Greek islands from Turkey. The coast guard said it and European border patrol agency Frontex had rescued 164 people in four separate incidents on Thursday off the islands of Lesbos and Chios.

First Published: Jun 03, 2016 15:27 IST