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300 Pakistanis dead as boat capsizes in Greece: Here's what happened

Between 400 and 750 people were believed to have been aboard the vessel, when it sank about 80 km off the southern Greek town of Pylos

The fishing trawler carrying migrants capsized off the Greek coast.

The fishing trawler carrying migrants capsized off the Greek coast.

BS Web Team New Delhi

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At least 298 Pakistanis were feared dead after a fishing trawler carrying migrants from different countries capsized off the Greek coast last week, according to local media reports from the country. Around 135 victims reportedly belong to the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Nine people who are suspected of smuggling people are scheduled to appear before a Greek court on charges of running the fishing trawler which sank in the Mediterranean sea, in one of the deadliest shipping disasters in Europe in recent years. 

78 dead, 104 survivors

The overcrowded boat had set sail from Tobruk in Libya towards Italy, and about 78 dead and 104 survivors were brought ashore after it sank about 80 km off the Greek town of Pylos, according to Greek authorities. Those on the trawler were mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt and Pakistan. 

Between 400 and 750 people were believed to have been aboard the vessel, the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR said in a joint statement. After the April 2015 capsizing of another vessel on the Libya-Italy route that killed about 1,100 people, UNHCR said this could be the second deadliest migrant shipwreck recorded. Over 500 people, including many children, are presumed missing and relatives are still seeking information after the boat sank in one of the deepest parts of the Mediterranean.

Pakistanis forced below deck  

According to the testimonies of survivors of the boat sinking, Pakistanis were forced to stay below deck, while other nationalities were allowed to stay on the top deck, where they had a much better chance of surviving a capsize.

Survivors of the boat sinking told The Observer that women and children were effectively confined to the hold of the vessel, ostensibly for their "protection." Pakistani nationals who were kept below deck, were also subjected to maltreatment by crew members when they tried to escape or went in search of fresh water, they added.

No women or children are thought to have survived the sinking, while reports from Pakistan on Saturday indicate hundreds of its citizens may have died when the trawler capsized. According to local media, at least 298 Pakistanis died, 135 from the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs said only 12 of the 78 survivors were from Pakistan. The conditions on the boat were so dire that six people had already died due to a lack of fresh water before it sank, media reports said. Sharif announced that Monday will be a day of mourning in the country, with the national flag flying at half-mast.

Pakistan authorities arrest 10 human traffickers

On Sunday, police in PoK said they had arrested 10 people allegedly involved in sending youngsters to Libya for their journey to Europe. They are presently under investigation for their involvement in people smuggling, Chaudhary Shaukat, a local official, told AFP.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has ordered law enforcement agencies to immediately crack down on agents engaged in people smuggling, saying those found guilty will be severely punished, after it emerged that several Pakistanis were among those onboard the trawler.

How it happened

Greek authorities say that the boat's occupants did not initially request assistance, but some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have said that they received a number of distress calls.

The cause of the vessel's capsizing is still unknown. There are concerns that it may have overturned after a rope was attached by the coastguard, but this has been denied by Greek officials. The coastguard initially said that it had kept a "discreet distance" from the boat, but on Friday a government spokesman confirmed that a rope had been thrown to "stabilize" the boat.

Anger over inconsistency in narrative

In Greece, inconsistencies in the information officials have so far released have led to anger. The Greek coastguard, responsible for overseeing the inquiry into the sinking of the boat, has been unable to provide any video footage to support its version of events.

A government spokesperson admitted that a rope was thrown to the stricken boat shortly before it sank. This has led to speculation that the coastguard's attempts to tow the trawler may have caused it to keel over, an accusation that the coastguard has strongly denied.

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First Published: Jun 19 2023 | 7:20 PM IST

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