50 AJK youth 'missing' in Greece boat tragedy: official

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Web Desk
Footage of the migrant boat hours before it capsized. — Twitter/@misanharriman
Footage of the migrant boat hours before it capsized. — Twitter/@misanharriman

Around 50 youth hailing from Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) went missing after an overloaded fishing boat capsized off Peloponnese in southern Greece, claimed Mirpur’s Commissioner Chaudhry Shaukat Ali on Saturday.

The boat sank Wednesday, resulting in the death of at least 78 people, with some 104 found alive till Friday. Reports suggest that 400 to 750 people were onboard the ill-fated boat.

Talking to journalists, the commissioner said that the 50 youth hailed from Kotli area of AJK, adding that they left the country three months ago.

Giving details, the official said the youth were sent by agents hailing from Gujranwala, Gujarat and Mandi Bahauddin.

He maintained that they were contacting the affected families. 

Earlier today, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that 12 Pakistanis are among the survivors of the capsized overloaded fishing boat which sank off Peloponnese in southern Greece. 

In a statement, Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said the authorities, at this stage, are unable to verify the number and identity of Pakistani nationals among the deceased.

She said the Pakistan Mission in Greece is in contact with the local authorities to identify and recover Pakistani nationals among the deceased and provide relief to the survivors.

For the identification of the 78 recovered bodies, the spokesperson said the process would take place "through DNA-matching with close family members (parents and children only)".

She requested that families of likely passengers onboard the boat contact Pakistan's mission in Greece on the 24/7 helpline numbers for verification purposes.

"They are also requested to share DNA reports from authenticated laboratories and the identity documents of the passenger at [email protected]," Baloch added.

Most of the people on board were from Egypt, Syria and Pakistan, Greek officials have said.

'My son was gullible'

The father of a 25-year-old Pakistani man missing after the ship capsized said his son was lured into being trafficked to Europe from Libya after being told it would take two to three days.

Instead, Shehryar Sultan was stuck in Libya for four months, his father said, before boarding the vessel that sank early on Wednesday (June 14) morning about 50 miles (80 km) from the southern coastal town of Pylos.

Shahid Mehmood, Sultan's 60-year-old father and a retired government servant, told Reuters a local travel agent charged Rs2.2 million ($7,653) for the trip, with the promise he would earn well in Europe.

"My son was gullible, so he went along with them," Mehmood said on Friday (June 16), as relatives visited him to pay respect after learning that the body of a man who was in the same boat as Sultan had been recovered.

Sultan stayed two days in Dubai, then six days in Egypt, before boarding a cramped plane — which was said to have people sitting on the floor — to Libya.

Sultan's messages from Tripoli described the squalid conditions where he and other men of Sultan's age were staying.

Although Sultan's family still prayed for Sultan's recovery, they had lost hope by Friday evening.

'FIA official hand in gloves with trafficker'

In a conversation with Geo News, Mukhtar Butt said his 27-year-old son Kashif Butt was also among those missing.

He mentioned that Kashif was a father of five who paid Rs2.3 million to a travel agent named Aslam to send him to Italy safely.

"The travel agent belongs to Nowshera Virkan. We had talked about sending Kashif to Italy through legal means. A person belonging to the FIA (Federal Investigation Authority) is also his partner."

What are Greek authorities saying?

The Greek coastguard and government officials say their patrol boats and nearby cargo ships had been shadowing the fishing boat since Tuesday afternoon, after it was spotted by a surveillance plane from Europe's Frontex agency.

They said the trawler had briefly stopped to take on food and water from a Maltese-flagged ship, but that a person on board, speaking English through a satellite phone, had insisted that no further assistance was needed and that those on board wished to continue their journey to Italy.

"From (1230 GMT to 1800 GMT) the merchant marine operations room was in repeated contact with the fishing boat. They steadily repeated that they wished to sail to Italy and did not want any contribution from Greece," the coastguard said.

At 2240 GMT, the trawler notified Athens of engine failure, and it stopped moving. The nearby patrol boat "immediately tried to approach the trawler to determine the problem," the coastguard said.

Twenty-four minutes later, the Greek patrol boat skipper radioed in that the boat had capsized. It sank within 15 minutes at 2:19 am Greek time.

What survivors and critics say

There are mounting questions as to whether the Greek coastguard should have intervened earlier to escort the ageing trawler, clearly packed with people, to safety.

Government spokesman Ilias Siakantaris said there were unconfirmed reports that up to 750 people had been on the boat. Relatives and activists have told AFP that there were at least 125 Syrians were on board.

But the coastguard spokesman suggested the boat might have capsized earlier if they had attempted to intervene.

"You cannot divert a boat with so many people on board by force unless there is cooperation," he said.

Greece's leftist former prime minister Alexis Tsipras said — after talking to survivors at the western port of Kalamata — that the migrants had actually "called for help".

One video showed a survivor on Thursday telling Tsipras that the boat had capsized after the coastguard had attempted to drag it at excessive speed.

"So the Greek coastguard used a rope to drag you, and that is how you sank?" the leftist leader asked.

Government spokesman Siakantaris confirmed Friday that a rope had been thrown to "stabilise" the boat, but that the migrants had refused help, saying, "No help, go Italy."

"There was never an attempt to tie the vessel, neither by us nor any other ship," the coastguard spokesman said Friday.

Reber Hebun, a Syrian refugee based in Germany who travelled to Greece to find his 24-year-old brother Rukayan, passed on what his brother, who survived the disaster, had told him.

"The Greek coastguard did nothing to help them at the beginning, when they were close to them," he told AFP.

"A commercial boat gave out water and food and everybody rushed (forward). The boat became unstable at this moment," his brother told him.