The death toll from a recent refugee shipwreck off Egypt’s coast has risen to 202 people as rescue teams continue the search deep in the Mediterranean for the missing victims.
Egyptian officials said Tuesday that 33 new bodies had been recovered from the boat, which capsized on September 21 on its way to Italy.
Regional governor Mohamed Sultan said the toll was “almost final,” rejecting rumors that tens more could still be unaccounted for.
Uncertainty remains on the actual number of people who boarded the vessel in an illegal journey toward Europe. Estimates by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) say at least 450 people were aboard the ship and about 300 died as a result of the incident. Security officials in Egypt had initially put the number of passengers, who were mostly from Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Somali, at 600, saying they reached the figure based on testimony provided by four crew members who were arrested following the shipwreck. Egypt had already rescued a total of 169 people.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman, who was speaking to journalists in Geneva, said the shipwreck was “one of the worst tragedies of this year,” but not the worst, voicing concern about a new trend of refugee smuggling from Africa to Europe, which could add to the already swelling number of deaths in the Mediterranean.
“We are concerned about what this says for the rest of the season as the weather turns cold and seas get more difficult,” said Millman.
Prior to the shipwreck off the Egyptian coast, most refugees trying to cross the sea from North Africa to Europe started the risky journey from Libya, where militancy and infighting had created a fertile ground for the work of smugglers. However, intensifying chaos in Libya and regular patrols and checks on the Libyan route have apparently made it more difficult for smugglers to operate, forcing them to test more suitable routes like the one from Egypt.
The IOM says more than 3,000 have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year. The figure includes war-affected refugees seeking to arrive in Greece from Turkey and also African refugees fleeing poverty to the north.