NEWS

Corfu boat people death toll feared higher

It is feared that up to 33 migrants have drowned in the Ionian Sea after the wooden trawler carrying more than 250 people to Italy sank off Corfu on Saturday with some of those rescued from the vessel claiming that it had been hit by a cargo ship that then failed to help them.

Authorities on Corfu had initially thought that 22 people were missing but as search and rescue teams continued to scour the Ionian on Monday, it emerged that the number is likely to be higher. Officials said that a total of 230 migrants had been safely transferred to the island. They consisted of 214 men, five women and 11 children. Fifteen of the survivors required hospital treatment and seven were still being treated yesterday but their lives are not thought to be in danger. Coast guard officers also arrested two men who are suspected of being Turkish people-smugglers who were sailing the migrants from Greece to Italy.

A third man has been arrested in Athens on suspicion of helping organize the trip. He is alleged to have accepted between 2,000 and 2,500 euros from each immigrant for their transportation to Italy. The majority of those on board the trawler were Afghans who had been living in Greece for several years and wanted to leave for a country where their application for political asylum would be examined.

Six of the migrants were appointed to represent the whole group and they told journalists yesterday that their boat sank after being struck by a cargo ship some 30 nautical miles off Corfu. It was initially thought that the trawler ran into engine problems. The immigrants claim that they issued a distress call but the vessel that struck them ignored it. They are asking for representatives of the United Nations to travel to the island so they can be informed about what happened and launch an investigation into the incident.

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