On April 19, staff of International Organization for Migration traveled to Kalamata, Greece to gather information from witnesses to a reported shipwreck that may have caused the deaths of upwards of 400 migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.
Late Tuesday, after learning that 41 survivors of a shipwreck in the area had been brought to Kalamata, IOM joined representatives from other agencies to seek further information on the reports, which had not yet been confirmed by authorities in the region. On Wednesday, IOM staff met some of the 41 survivors, who said they were rescued on Saturday (16 April) by a Filipino cargo ship off the Libyan coast. That vessel brought them to Greece.
The survivors confirmed the following details of the shipwreck: They left the port of Tobruk, Libya, on several small boats—each carrying between 30 and 40 people—for a total of 200 migrants bound for a larger vessel on the high seas. When these survivors arrived, they say they saw that the larger ship already was overcrowded and carrying some 300 passengers. The journey from Tobruk to the larger boat took many hours, these survivors told IOM staff.
Once transferred to the larger vessel – now with an estimated 500 on board – it began taking on water, they reported. The vessel started to sink and panicking passengers tried to jump into the smaller boats they had arrived in, some of which were still nearby. The survivors told IOM that most of those aboard the larger vessel tragically died.
Some 30 traumatized migrants remained aboard one of the smaller boats and they were joined by ten others who managed to swim to safety.
The survivors report that migrants came mainly from Egypt, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia. The migrants also claimed to the IOM staff that each of them paid from US $800 – $2,000 to the smugglers in order to reach Europe.
A man named Mohamed, from Ethiopia, told IOM staff that he was travelling with his family: “I saw my wife and my two-month old child die at sea, together with my brother-in-law,” Mohamed said. “The boat was going down…down…, all the people died in a matter of minutes. After the shipwreck we drifted at sea for a few days, without food, without anything, I think (sic) I was going to die. When we were rescued we were told them that we wanted to go to Italy, but we have been brought to Greece.”
“The testimonies we gathered are heartbreaking,” said IOM Athens Chief of Mission Daniel Esdras. “We await further investigations by authorities to better understand what actually happened and find hopefully evidence against criminal smugglers.”
The latest tragic loss of life, if confirmed, will bring it to nearly 800 the number of migrants who have perished on the Mediterranean Sea’s central route between North Africa and Europe so far this year.
Additionally, about 380 migrants reportedly have died in 2016 on the Eastern Mediterranean Route between Turkey and Greece and some five migrants on the Western Route linking Morocco to Spain.
All told, IOM’s Missing Migrants project counts to around 1,200 migrants killed this year on all Mediterranean routes.
Last year, through the entire month of April, IOM reported over 1,730 migrants lost their lives or went missing.