Aftab Khan, a British man from Wolverhampton, fears members of his family are among the hundreds of people missing after a fishing boat overloaded with migrants capsized and sank off the coast of Greece in the early hours of Wednesday.
The search for survivors continued on Thursday in the Ionian Sea, where the boat floundered about 50 miles from the southern coastal town of Pylos. The local coast guard service said 104 people have been rescued and 78 bodies recovered so far.
According to Greek authorities, most of the migrants were originally from Egypt, Syria and Pakistan. The boat had set sail from Libya and was heading for Italy.
Some of those on board made panicked calls to the charity Alarm Phone, which provides a hotline for migrants in distress on vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. It said the boat might have been carrying up to 750 people, Sky News reported.
Khan, who traveled to Greece shortly after news of the tragedy broke, told Sky News that one of his cousins had been found alive but he has been unable to locate two others.
“We don’t know where the rest of them are at the moment,” he said from the port city of Kalamata, where survivors are being looked after. “We’re just trying to find out.”
The boat capsized and sank at about 2 a.m. on Wednesday after its engine reportedly failed and it began veering from side to side. Images released by the Greek coast guard show dozens of people on the top and lower decks staring up, some with arms outstretched. According to witnesses, there were many women and children in the hold below.
Alarm Phone said it had spoken to someone on board who said: “The captain left on a small boat. Please, any solution.”
The charity accused the Greek and other European authorities of failing to launch a rescue operation before the boat capsized, despite being “well aware of this overcrowded and unseaworthy vessel,” Sky News reported.
The Greek coast guard denied this and said people on the boat “refused our assistance because they wanted to go to Italy.”
Many of the survivors were being treated for hypothermia and dehydration. They are temporarily housed in a warehouse, where Greek authorities are working to confirm their identities and interview them, as they look for any people smugglers who might be among them.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration said reports suggest there were up to 400 people on the boat. The deputy mayor of Kalamata told Sky News the number was probably closer to 550.