The U.N. refugee agency is confirming reports up to 500 people may have lost their lives when an overcrowded boat capsized and sank earlier this month in the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Italy.
The incident reportedly happened April 8.
Monday, witnesses and survivors told VOA Somali a smuggler's vessel overturned while carrying as many as 500 people. They said an unknown number swam to boats nearby and were taken to Greece.
Citing survivor accounts, the UNHCR said Wednesday a boat attempting to transfer passengers to a larger ship capsized and sank. The UNHCR said that a merchant ship eventually rescued 41 survivors and dropped them off near the Cretan port of Kalamata on April 16.
UNHCR spokeswoman Ariadni Spanaki on Crete told journalists that many of the survivors “were in shock,” and that “some were crying.”
If the death toll is confirmed, this could be one of the worst tragedies since the start of the migrant crisis in Europe.
The United Nations says those rescued include 37 men, three women and a three-year-old child, all from African countries, with the majority from Somalia as well as Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt.
The Somali government said Monday that 200 of its nationals drowned in the tragedy. The vessels involved were reportedly also carrying migrants from Ethiopia, Sudan, Syria and Egypt. Survivors say the smaller boat, which remained afloat, began its journey from Tobruk, Libya, near the Egyptian border.
African illegal migrants wait to receive medial assistance after being rescued by coastal guards on a port in Tripoli, Libya, Monday, April 11, 2016.
Close to 180,000 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea across the Mediterranean and Aegean this year escaping war and poverty in their home countries for a better life in prosperous northern Europe, with Germany as their most favored destination.
At least 760 people have died or gone missing attempting the journey this year.
Edward Yeranian contributed to this article from Cairo.