The death toll for a boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized off the coast of Egypt this week has risen to 148.
The boat was carrying between 450 and 600 migrants when it capsized 7.5 miles or 12 km/nautical miles off the coast of the Nile Delta port city of Rosetta. Authorities say they have rescued 163 people and recovered 51 bodies, including those of women and children who were unable to swim away when the boat sank. The boat was carrying Egyptian, Syrian, and Sudanese, Eritrean and Somali migrants, they added.
The boat was kept off the coast for five days as more and more migrants were brought on board and capsized after a final group of some 150 people were crammed on board as many boats used for human trafficking are, survivors said.
Some of those rescued after suffering injuries were taken to hospitals, where they lie handcuffed to beds under police guard.
It was not immediately clear where the boat was headed, though officials said they believed it was going to Italy and some teenage Egyptian survivors, huddled together in the basement of a police station where they have been detained along with others in the town’s local police station, told the media that they were trying to reach Italy to find work.
Migrant smugglers in Egypt are forcing children to contracts that would leave them working for years to pay off their voyage. The terms of the agreements mean that the children owe the smugglers a percentage of the money they make once they have arrived in Europe and found a job.
Although the trip costs the children and their families huge sums of money, the boats used by the smugglers are so poorly maintained there is no guarantee they will even arrive at their destination. One survivor said that if someone wanted a life jacket, they were forced to pay extra.
EU border agency Frontex says more than 12,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Egypt between January and September, compared with 7,000 over the same period in 2015.
With the closure of a popular route through Balkans countries, as well as an EU deal to halt departures from Turkey’s east coast, asylum seekers are increasingly seeking other routes and this one is proving to be increasingly popular.
Frontex has warned that Egypt is the “new hotspot” for people smugglers, with concerns that its population of about 80 million people may pose a major problem should it descend into chaos.
A growing number of migrants are willing to pay astronomical sums of money to smugglers to make the dangerous journey from Egypt to Europe.
Authorities say Egyptians in police custody will soon be released but foreign nationals will be held for a few days for questioning as to how they entered the country.
Four crew members have been remanded into police custody for four days pending further investigation, Egyptian officials said.
They are suspected of involuntary manslaughter and human trafficking, judicial officials were reported as saying.
Authorities also issued arrest warrants for five more people wanted in connection with the tragedy.
It’s the latest tragedy among migrants trying to reach Europe.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Save the Children carried out two migrant rescue missions off the Libyan coast.
Pictures showed the men being rescued from an overcrowded rubber inflatable and transferred from a rescue ship operated by the German humanitarian charity Jugend Rettet, to another run by Save the Children.
More than 10,000 people have died crossing the Mediterranean towards Europe since 2014, according to the UN, 3,000 of them this year.
The deadliest month was May, when hundreds of people died in three separate incidents that overwhelmed rescuers.
Human rights researchers warned last month of a “devastating” lack of information for families of migrants thought to have drowned in the Mediterranean.
Image Credit flickr.com/photos/46450451@N06/