The bodies of 148 people had been pulled from the waters off the Egyptian coast today, three days after a boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized in the Mediterranean while attempting to head to Europe.
Wahdan el-Sayyed, the spokesman of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, provided the latest figures and told The Associated Press that the search operation was ongoing.
Dozens more are feared dead, Mohammed Sultan, the governor of Beheira, said earlier. Many of them are believed to be children and women who were unable to swim away when the boat sank.
An AP reporter near the Nile Delta city of Rosetta saw between 20 to 30 bodies brought in by fishing boats early Friday morning and delivered to a group of waiting ambulances at the coast guard pier. Pictures posted on social networking sites showed dozens of bodies lined up in black plastic bags, and others floating near wooden fishing boats.
Authorities have struggled to give accurate figures for the number of people on board the capsized vessel. The boat was located nearly 12 kilometers from the Nile Delta port city of Rosetta, when it sank.
It had waited at sea for many hours perhaps days for smaller wooden boats carrying migrants to arrive from different points along the Egyptian coastline.
Survivors said that overcrowding caused the boat to capsize.
The head of the local council in the area, Ali Abdel-Sattar, said that the currents have carried the bodies of the victims many kilometers away from the site of the sinking. "Today, four bodies, including two Egyptian children, were found 20 kilometers to the east," he told the AP.
He added that many of the migrants are believed to have been "stored in the bottom of the boat, in the fridge."
"Those are the ones who drowned first, most probably stuck, and their bodies might not be retrieved anytime soon," he said, adding, "those we found are the ones liberated from the boat. I believe many are stuck and now laying in the bottom of the sea." He said the boat may now have sunk to 16 meters (yards) below sea level.
The UNHCR estimated that the boat was packed with some 450 people, while the state news agency MENA said earlier that the number might be as high as 600.
"UNHCR is deeply saddened by the loss of life after yet another boat capsized in the Mediterranean," the U.N. Refugee agency said in a statement. Of the 150 people rescued, UNHCR said that the majority are Egyptians, while the others are Sudanese and other nationalities, including Somalians and Eritreans.
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