Greece has declared three days of national mourning after a fishing boat carrying hundreds of refugees sunk 47 nautical miles off the shores of Pylos in the Peloponnese on Wednesday with at least 79 confirmed dead and hundreds still missing.
The deadly incident is one of many in European waters as the EU continues to delay a common responsibility-sharing policy.
So far more than 104 people have been rescued as search and rescue efforts continue. Dozens have been transferred to the hospital in Kalamata.
In the meantime, according to survivors’ accounts more up to 750 people were said to be on board the fishing boat believed to heading to Italy from Libya.
“We are all shocked by today’s tragic shipwreck in the international waters of the Mediterranean, southwest of the Peloponnese,” said Kyriakos Mitsotakis, former prime minister.
Mitsotakis was quick to stress that “the new incident highlights in a dramatic way that migration remains a problem that requires a coherent European policy so that the despicable criminal networks that traffic desperate people will finally get the decisive response they deserve”.
In the meantime, Greece’s caretaker government currently in place ahead of June 25 elections, has also called for the cancellation of all events.
“These are moments of solidarity and humanity. Now the priority is to save as many lives as possible,” said Mitsotakis, who has during his term as prime minister repeatedly called for fair distribution of responsibility within the EU.
Commenting on the tragedy, European Council President Charles Michel reiterated Mitsotakis’ call claiming that the shipwreck was a “heartbreaking reminder” of the urgent need to end the lucrative business of human traffickers.
Michel said EU heads of state would be addressing the issue during a leaders summit this month.
Meanwhile, in an interview to Euronews, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, admitted that EU’s migration policy “wasn’t working” and added that the deadly shipwreck demonstrates “the urgent need to reform migration policy”.
According to survivors, some 750 people including some 100 children had been packed into the boat by illegal traffickers.
In the meantime, supreme court prosecutor Isidoros Dogiakos has ordered an official investigation into the cause of the incident and to the delayed response of all responsible bodies including the EU’s border agency Frontex, EU and Greek authorities, which all said they had spotted the boat on Tuesday.
According to local media reports at least six people suspected of being the traffickers are currently in custody.
As central routes into the EU for refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa, Greece, Italy and Cyprus – countries facing the brunt of EU’s refugee crisis – have repeatedly called on the EU to take measures and contribute to monitoring without results.
In a comment to SkyTG24 TV, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said the shipwreck was “confined within, the Greek search and rescue area, under the specific responsibility of that country… but that does not mean that Greece is to blame, it is just circumscribing specific areas of responsibility.”
Piantedosi said a common EU action plan was required for such incidents to stop. “This makes us even more determined on the path we are following: to block human traffickers, to work to defeat them. We can do it together with Europe,” he said.
Speaking to BBC, Yiorgos Michaelidis said Greece had repeatedly called for a “solid” EU migration policy “in order to accept people who are really in need and not just the people who have the money to pay the smugglers. Right now, the smugglers are the ones who decide who comes to Europe,” he said.
Since 2015, Greece has been inundated by thousands of refugees and migrants trying to enter illegally on small, overloaded boats from the coast of neighboring Turkey and from other countries.
According to UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, 12,758 refugees or migrants arrived by sea, 6,022 by land, and 326 were reported dead or missing in 2022.
So far this year, more than 5,104 have made their way to the EU via Greece by sea.