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Witnesses: Hundreds of East African Migrants Drown at Sea


Migrants ask for help from a dinghy boat as they are approached by the SOS Meditrranee's ship Aquarius, background, off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, April 17, 2016.

Migrants ask for help from a dinghy boat as they are approached by the SOS Meditrranee's ship Aquarius, background, off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, April 17, 2016.

Hundreds of East African migrants are believed dead after their boat capsized in the eastern Mediterranean.

Witnesses and survivors told VOA Monday that the vessel overturned while carrying as many as 500 people. An unknown number swam to boats nearby and were later picked up and taken to Greece.

The incident happened April 8 but was first reported by the BBC late Sunday.

Ethiopian national Mussa Mohamed Adam said he is one of the few migrants who survived the tragedy. He told VOA's Horn of Africa Service that the boat capsized after he and about 200 other migrants came on board from a smaller boat that departed Egypt a day and a half earlier.

Adam estimated that 500 people were on board at the time, and only 30 were able to swim back to the smaller boat.

Liban Qadar Jama of Somaliland was on another boat that was approaching the rendezvous point. "I could see the bigger boat sinking," he told VOA's Somali Service. "We ran with the small boat we were in, as some migrants from the sunk boat desperately swam toward us. We could only save four of them."

Jama and other witnesses say the survivors spent about nine days drifting at sea before they were picked up by either the Greek or Italian coast guard and taken to Greece.

Unconfirmed reports on social media Monday suggested most of those who drowned were Somalis, trying to escape their war and drought-ravaged homeland.

If the death toll is confirmed, it would be the worst migrant tragedy since some 700 people drowned off the coast of Libya in April of last year.

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