Dozens of bodies retrieved after Egypt boat disaster

Dozens of bodies have been pulled out of the water off the Egyptian coast after hundreds of migrants heading to Europe drowned when their overcrowded boat capsized.

An Associated Press reporter in the Nile Delta city of Rosetta saw 20 to 30 bodies, many of them decomposed, brought in by fishing boats and delivered to a group of waiting ambulances.

The death toll is at least 70 and is likely to rise, making it one of the deadliest incidents from the migrant trail across the Mediterranean.

Many of the dead are women and children who were unable to swim away when the boat sank on Wednesday.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that the boat was packed with 450 people, while the state news agency MENA said earlier that the number might have reached 600.

"UNHCR is deeply saddened by the loss of life after yet another boat capsized in the Mediterranean," the UN refugee agency said in a statement.

Of the 150 people rescued, UNHCR said the majority are Egyptians as well as Sudanese and other nationalities including Somalians and Eritreans.

Four people described as smugglers were arrested on Thursday and authorities are investigating.

Egypt has been a traditional route of migrants to Europe by sea, but since 2014, UNHCR said, there has been a steady increase in the number being intercepted while trying to leave.

More than 4,600 people were arrested this year, UNCHR said, a 28% increase on last year.

At a district called el-Borg, hundreds of families gathered hoping to identify the bodies of their loved ones. Women screamed, and relatives pushed and shoved while swarming the ambulances heading to hospital.

Fishermen said they had difficulty collecting the badly decomposed bodies, with one saying, "We didn't know how to pull them."

The intense smell of decay filled the air and many covered their faces with masks.

Survivors and relatives said the boat sank more than seven miles from the Egyptian coast and it took the coastguard around six hours to reach them. Fishing boats in the vicinity were the first to provide help.

 

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