The shipwreck last week off Greece that is feared to have killed hundreds of people may be the “worst ever tragedy” of its kind in the Mediterranean Sea, the European Union’s migration chief said Wednesday.
The tragedy comes as migrant crossings from eastern Libya to Europe have surged, said Ylva Johansson, the EU’s migration and home affairs commissioner.
As many as 750 people may have been on board the migrant ship that sank in the Mediterranean a week ago, and just over 100 people survived the shipwreck. So far, 82 bodies have been recovered and hundreds of people are missing.
“We saw this new modus operandi starting in the beginning of this year. We’ve seen an increase with 600% along this route from the eastern part of Libya towards EU or mainly towards Italy,” Johansson told a news conference in Stockholm.
She said it appears the vessel was “an empty fishing boat leaving from Egypt, going to the eastern part of Libya, picking up maybe 750 migrants,” before embarking on the deadly crossing toward Europe.
Noting that the number of people on the ship had not yet been confirmed, Johansson said the shipwreck could be “the worst ever tragedy that we’ve seen actually in the Mediterranean.”
Greece has been widely criticized for not trying to save the migrants before the sinking in international waters. Officials in Athens say the passengers refused any help and insisted on proceeding to Italy, adding that it would have been too dangerous to try and evacuate hundreds of unwilling people off an overcrowded ship.
Nine Egyptian men suspected of crewing the ship are in pretrial custody in Greece facing charges including participating in a criminal organization, manslaughter and causing a shipwreck.
“This shows that we really need to do much, much more to prevent this kind of tragedies happening in the Mediterranean,” Johansson said. “And these smugglers that have asked these migrants to pay a lot of money to be sent to EU, they’re actually being sent to death. That’s what they are doing.”