Italy Confirms Tragedy off Egypt, ‘Waiting for Details’

Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has confirmed reports of a tragedy off Egypt in which up to 400 migrants are feared dead but said he is still waiting for details.

“We are looking for more details and information but what is sure is that we are again with a tragedy in the Mediterranean, exactly one year after the tragedy we had … in Libyan waters,” Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told reporters, referring to the deaths of hundreds of migrants off Libya in April 2015.

“This is another strong reason for Europe to commit itself not to build walls but towards strengthening our commitment towards migration, especially towards Africa,” he said.

His comments come despite no official confirmation yet of the incident, which is said to involve mostly Somali and Oromo, Eritrean and Ethiopian.

A spokeswoman for the Hellenic Coast Guard told Migrant Report denied reports that the Greek coastguard had responded to such an incident much less rescued survivors.

“There was no such incident off Greece. I think the information is incorrect, whatever the case, this did not happen in Greek waters and nobody was rescued off a vessel with 400 to 500 people on board,” she said.

Stock photo of boat sunk in the Sicilian Strait. Photo: Jason Floro/MOAS.eu

Stock photo of boat sunk in the Sicilian Strait. Photo: Jason Floro/MOAS.eu

Similarly, both the Italian and Maltese rescue coordination centres denied handling such an emergency. Malta’s search and rescue area covers the stretch of sea off Crete.

The first reports of the tragedy appeared on social media and BBC Arabic, which cited the Somali ambassador to Egypt saying that most of the people who died were Somalis. It also said that a correspondent in Kenya spoke to relatives of three young brothers who are feared drowned.

The boat with about 400 to 500 migrants was said to have left Alexandria and capsized off Crete late on Saturday while on the way to Italy.

Reports on survivors varied between seven and 24. However, no confirmation could be obtained on the whereabouts.

However, UNHCR in Greece told MR its enquiries about any survivors being brought to Crete or the nearby island of Karpathos both turned up a blank.

Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Paolo Gentiloni

Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Paolo Gentiloni

By mid morning the incident was being reported on by large news outlets, including the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Sky NewsThe Independent and even the British tabloid Daily Mail among others.

However, they all seem to hinge off the same BBC Arabic report. A somali woman who is quoted by the BBC Somali service says she lost three relatives on a boat that capsized.

Fatuma Abdi Dirie, who lives in Egypt, said they called before the boarded the vessel on Thursday. But no further details were given on the reported capsizing, whether there were survivors and where they were taken.

Asked to comment on the reported incident, the Italian President Mattarella said: “We are trying to obtain more information from the Egyptian authorities. We need to think about these tragedies.”

Even the Italian right wing politician Sergio Matteo Salvini weighed in, saying this was “more blood on the conscience of do-gooder politicians”.

The report comes on the first anniversary since the biggest migrant disaster on record, when an estimated 850 people died in a single shipwreck about 85 miles off Libya.

Italy announced today it intends bringing up the 2015 wooden wreck to the surface and retrieve the bodies. That vessel and the bodies are estimated to sitting at a depth of 360 meters or 1,200 feet.