Egypt attempts to float sunken migrant boat as death toll rises to 169

Yasser Shemis in Beheira , Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Rescue efforts
Egyptian rescue workers arrive on a boat carrying bodies of migrants, during a search operation after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean, along the shore in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta on September 23, 2016. (Photo: AFP)

The death toll from the capsizing of a migrant boat on Wednesday off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast reached 169 people on Sunday, with Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail assigning the Petroleum Marine Services to retrieve the sunken vessel, according to a statement by Egypt's health ministry.

The dead include 94 Egyptians and 75 foreigners.

The vessel tasked with recovering the boat is equipped with 11 divers and a crane capable of lifting 100 tonnes.

The migrant boat, which was carrying several hundreds of different nationalities, sailed from Egypt's Mediterranean port city of Rosetta and was heading to Italy.

Some locals have expressed doubt over the recovery mission, with the head of the fishermen’s union in Rosetta Ramadan Abdo saying that the boat may need a larger crane to lift out of the sea.

Abdo told Ahram Online the capsized boat weighed around 80 tonnes, and that this weight would increase after sinking, thus making it doubtful that it can be lifted by a 100 tonne crane.

Local fishermen have offered to help recover the boat by retrieving it in separate pieces, Abdo added.

Hospitals have made preparations to receive more bodies, as dozens of corpses are expected to be recovered from the sunken boat.

According to eyewitness estimates, the boat was carrying around 450 migrants – many of whom were women and children – on a vessel believed to have a maximum capacity of 150 passengers.

At least 52 Egyptian families are reported to have inquired about missing relatives as of Saturday.

A total of 164 people have been rescued, including 117 Egyptians and 43 foreigners, as well as the boat’s four crew members who have been arrested.

Survivors say that they were in the water for seven hours before being rescued.

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi called on Saturday for the prosecution of the traffickers behind the disaster.

“[The traffickers] violated Egyptian and international law... taking advantage of the people's lack of awareness amid regional and international circumstances that make Egypt a transit point for illegal immigration," El-Sisi said.

The four crew members, who are in custody pending investigation, are facing charges of human trafficking, wrongful death, wrongful injury and using a fishing boat for another purpose.

In recent years, thousands of refugees and migrants have attempted to cross the Mediterranean in search of better opportunities, with Egypt’s northern coastline considered a hot spot for smugglers and migrants heading to Europe, mainly Italy.

Egyptian security forces have thwarted numerous irregular migration attempts in recent months.

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