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Greece boat disaster: Up to 500 people still missing says UN – Frontex statement following tragic shipwreck off Pylos

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Up to 500 people are still missing from a packed migrant boat that sank off Greece, the UN refugee agency says.

Large numbers of women and children were among those missing in the “horrific tragedy” that left 78 people dead, said spokesman Jeremy Laurence.

The UN refugee and migration agencies are calling for urgent and decisive action to prevent further deaths at sea following Wednesday’s tragedy in the Mediterranean. With 78 bodies retrieved, 104 people rescued, and hundreds more missing and feared dead, the 14 June shipwreck off the coast of Greece is one of the worst and most deadly in years.

In a joint statement, refugee agency UNHCR and migration agency IOM, said that the duty to rescue people in distress at sea without delay was a “fundamental” rule of the international maritime law.

They underscored that the current approach to Mediterranean Sea crossings – one of the world’s most dangerous and deadly migration routes – was “unworkable”.

According to figures released by the IOM on Tuesday, last year 3,800 people died on migration routes within and from the Middle East and North Africa – the highest number since 2017.

The recent tragedy adds to the gruesome statistics. While the number of people aboard the boat is still not clear, it is believed to have been somewhere between 400 and 750.

The boat was reportedly in distress as of Tuesday morning. A large-scale search and rescue operation was announced by the Hellenic Coast Guard on the morning of 14 June, after the vessel capsized.

UN support continues

UNHCR and IOM representatives have been on the ground in Kalamata in southern Greece working with the authorities to provide support and assistance to survivors.

These include non-food items, hygiene kits, interpretation services and counselling for survivors.

The agencies said they welcome investigations underway by Greek authorities into the circumstances leading up to the disaster.


“It is clear that the current approach to the Mediterranean is unworkable. Year after year, it continues to be the most dangerous migration route in the world, with the highest fatality rate.

“States need to come together and address the gaps in proactive search and rescue, quick disembarkation, and safe regular pathways,” said Federico Soda, IOM Director for the Department of Emergencies.

UNHCR called on the European Union to put “safety and solidarity at the heart of its action in the Mediterranean”.

Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs said in view of increased migrant numbers, “collective efforts, including greater coordination between all Mediterranean States, solidarity, and responsibility-sharing, as reflected in the EU’s Pact on Migration and Asylum, are essential to save lives.”

The agency continues to advocate for the establishment of an agreed regional disembarkation and redistribution mechanism.

Make traffickers accountable

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk added his voice, reiterating that the incident highlighted the need to fully investigate people smugglers and human traffickers and ensure that they are brought to justice.

He voiced solidarity with the survivors and the families of the victims, many of whom are women and children.

Mr. Türk called on States to open more regular migration channels, enhance responsibility-sharing, and ensure the safe and timely disembarkation of all people rescued at sea.

Frontex statement following tragic shipwreck off Pylos

We are shocked and saddened by the tragic events that unfolded off the coast of Greece. The Frontex Executive Director, who was in Greece since yesterday, has offered any support the authorities may need.

People smugglers have once again trifled with human lives by forcing several hundred migrants on a fishing boat not designed to fit such a number of people. Many were trapped underneath the deck. Our thoughts go out to the families of the victims.

On 13 June before noon, a Frontex plane spotted the fishing vessel inside the Greek Search and Rescue Region in international waters. The ship was heavily overcrowded and was navigating at slow speed (6 knots) towards Italy.

Frontex immediately informed the Greek, Italian and Maltese authorities about the sighting, providing them with information about the condition of the vessel, speed and photos. As the plane was monitoring the Central Mediterranean, Italian and Maltese authorities also received live streaming of the fishing vessel.

The plane kept monitoring the vessel, constantly providing updates to all three national authorities until it ran out of fuel and had to return to base.

As a Frontex drone was to patrol the Aegean on the same day, the agency offered to provide additional assistance ahead of the planned and scheduled flight. The Greek authorities asked the agency to send the drone to another search and rescue incident south off Crete with 80 people in danger.

The drone, after attending to the incident south off Crete, flew to the last known position of the fishing vessel. The drone arrived at the scene four hours later at 04:05 (UTC) in the morning, when a large-scale search and rescue operation by Greek authorities was ongoing and there was no sign of the fishing boat. No Frontex plane or boat was present at the time of the tragedy.

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