Greece boat tragedy: Sanaullah says 82 bodies of Pakistanis have been recovered, warns toll could rise

Published June 23, 2023
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah in the National Assembly on Friday.—DawnNewsTV
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah in the National Assembly on Friday.—DawnNewsTV

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Friday provided an update on the Greek shipwreck incident, revealing that 82 deceased Pakistani victims had been recovered, with their specimens obtained and the ongoing identification process being conducted through Nadra.

Last week, an Italy-bound fishing trawler reportedly carrying at least 800 people — including hundreds of Pakistanis — capsized off Greece. Only 104 people are known to have survived and the chance of finding more survivors was seen as virtually nil.

Speaking in the budget debate in the National Assembly, the minister also warned that the toll in the incident may escalate dramatically. “The boat’s capacity was about 400 passengers, but there were around 700 onboard.

“Among these, the number of Pakistani passengers on board — as per the information that we have received so far — is approximately 350.”

He added that 12 Pakistanis were among the total 104 people who had survived.

“The number could escalate dramatically. It’s possible that it could exceed any other disaster or act of terror,” he added.

Witness accounts suggested that between 400 and 750 people had crammed onto the 20- to 30 metre-long (65- to 100-foot) fishing boat which then capsized and sank early on June 14 about 50 miles (80 km) from the southern coastal town of Pylos, according to Reuters.

Sanaullah shared that so far in Pakistan, 281 families have contacted the government, expressing concern that their loved ones may have been caught up in this incident. He said so far 193 DNA samples have been taken.

According to the minister, desks have been established, and all the affected families have been contacted, with their DNA samples and other necessary information collected.

The minister added that once the identification process was completed, the bodies that were present would be brought back.

Furthermore, he informed the assembly that approximately 99 per cent of individuals who departed for Europe so far did so through “legal means.” However, upon reaching countries such as Egypt, UAE, and Libya, they tend to opt for illegal routes.

Sanaullah revealed that the prime minister had established a “high-level committee” to investigate the incident, highlighting that the committee was focused on three key areas to trace the individuals responsible.

‘Amendment in laws under consideration to punish traffickers’

He also pointed out existing loopholes in the laws, emphasising the scarcity of convictions in similar incidents over the past five years. Sanaullah expressed concern that even in cases where charges were filed, suspects often secured release on bail, while families entered settlements, resulting in an alarmingly low conviction rate.

The minister stated that amendments to the laws were under consideration to ensure that those involved in human trafficking and employing illicit means to send people abroad would face appropriate punishment.

He stated that the issue was being addressed with specific countries that had issued visas to individuals who were not relevant to the intended purpose, and who subsequently continued their journey through unauthorised routes.

“I assure the house that we will spare no efforts, and a comprehensive set of recommendations will be proposed by the probe committee, which the government will diligently implement,” he affirmed.

He pledged that those engaged in this heinous business would be punished according to the law.

The Federal Investigation Agency had on Thursday said its teams were conducting raids on information received from the families of the victims.

“A crackdown on the basis of intelligence is being done to arrest all the suspects in the Greece boat tragedy and a new plan is being drafted to prevent such incidents from taking place in the future,” the FIA had said.

More traffickers arrested

In a statement issued today, an FIA spokesperson said the agency’s north zone had arrested 27 human traffickers so far, of which four were captured from Islamabad and the rest from Lahore.

“Seventy cases have registered against smugglers involved in the Greece boat tragedy,” he stated, elaborating that these first information reports were lodged in Islamabad, Lahore, and Faisalabad.

The agency further stated that the FIA’s Anti-Human Trafficking Circle had registered sex cases in Lahore, 20 in Gujrat, 34 in Gujranwala, four in Islamabad, and six in Faisalabad.

Meanwhile, 178 DNA samples of the kin of the victims of the shipwreck had been collected, which would be used in identifying those killed.

Earlier, the FIA had said these samples would be sent to Greece.

Harrowing details

One of the 12 Pakistani survivors released from the camp in Malacca, Mohammad Hamza told BBC Urdu there was no food, water or toilet facility available in the ship’s hold, and several of those who were forced to stay down there frequently fainted or experienced sea sickness, Dawn reported.

Hamza had also said there were no women in the section he was seated in, but he did see two children between the ages of 10 and 12. He estimated that there were around 350 Pakistanis on board.

He had narrated how they would ask for help from passing ships. “A cargo ship threw water and cake onto our boat and moved ahead, while we screamed ‘Help! Help!’ at the top of our lungs. Other passenger boats also provided us with small amounts of water and food, however, the help we needed was not provided to us,” he said.

He related how the boat’s engine stopped working around 30 minutes before it went under. “I luckily got a hold of a bottle which guided me to some distance, and then I grabbed a tube that was also held by Syrian and Egyptian survivors. We kept swimming in the open sea for about 40-45 minutes before we were rescued by a speed boat,” he told BBC Urdu.

Hamza had also revealed there was no captain on the ship. “Every time we tried to ask the human traffickers, they assured us that they have asked for help from Italian authorities who were aware of the boat’s location.

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