As many as 500 migrants are feared to have drowned after traffickers reportedly rammed and sank their boat in what the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has described as “the worst shipwreck in years”.
Horrific details of the shipwreck, which occurred on Wednesday near Malta, have been told to IOM by survivors.
“If this story, which police are investigating, is true, it would be the worst shipwreck in years… not an accident but a mass murder, perpetrated by criminals without scruples or any respect for human life,” IOM said in a statement on Monday.
Two surviving Palestinians plucked from the water by a freighter on Thursday told the IOM that about 500 passengers had been on one vessel that was wrecked on purpose by people smugglers.
According to the two, Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese migrants set out from Damietta in Egypt on September 6, and were forced to change boats several times during the crossing towards Europe.
The traffickers, on a separate boat, then ordered them onto a smaller vessel, which many of the migrants feared was too small to hold them.
When they refused to cross over to the new boat, the furious traffickers rammed their boat until it capsized, the survivors told the maritime organisation.
“Two survivors brought to Sicily told us that there had been at least 500 people on board. Nine other survivors were rescued by Greek and Maltese ships, but all the rest appear to have perished,” Flavio Di Giacomo, IOM’s spokesman in Italy, told AFP.
The Maltese armed forces said seven people, all unconscious and suffering from hypothermia, were flown to a hospital on Crete.
They also said their initial information suggested a collision between a boat carrying up to 400 migrants and another carrying around 30.