'500 dead', confirm survivors of latest Mediterranean boat tragedy

'500 dead', confirm survivors of latest Mediterranean boat tragedy
2 min read
20 April, 2016
The UN refugee agency and witnesses have confirmed that around 500 refugees from Africa have drowned in the Mediterranean after their overcrowded boat sank.
File photo: The boat departed from Libya; not Egypt as previously reported [Getty]
Survivors of the latest mass tragedy to strike the Mediterranean have spoken out about their horrifying ordeal, when the overloaded boat capsized last week while making a crossing to Europe, killing as many as 500 passengers.

The 41 survivors - 37 men, three women and a three-year-old child - of the crossing from Tobruk in Libya were rescued and taken to Greece. They have confirmed that hundreds of people drowned when the non-seaworthy vessel tipped over.

UNHCR spokeswoman Carlotta Sami also said on Wednesday that survivors from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt who were rescued from a small boat had described seeing a large shipwreck claiming hundreds of lives.

"There were 500 passengers, mostly Somalis, on the boat, but only [some] people survived," Awale Warsame, a survivor of the tragedy, told Somali media.

"Survivors, including me, had to use broken wood pieces from the capsized boat to float over waters before we were rescued. The boat capsized on April 12 but we were rescued by a Filipino ship off a Greek island five days later," he added.

      Nearly 25,000 refugees have crossed
the Mediterranean this year [Getty]

The disaster happened several miles out to sea, after the smugglers tried to transfer a group of refugees from a smaller to a larger boat.

The larger boat was already overburdened and began to sink under the weight of the extra passengers.

"When I saw that the boat was falling into the water, I jumped out and swam to another boat and a friend threw me a rope and caught my hand. I saw lots of people and families shouting for help," said another survivor.

"No one could help because everyone wanted to only save their lives," he added.

A Somali community leader in Egypt said that some of the dead appeared to have been part of Egypt's Somali expatriate community.

"Families in Egypt are weeping for their children who drowned in the sea," he said. "I keep seeing pictures of the people who drowned on social media. Some of them were my students."

The survivors drifted at sea before being spotted and rescued on April 16 and arrived the following day in the port city of Kalamata, southern Greece.