UN launches mission to investigate reported Mediterranean shipwreck

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has sent a team to Greece to investigate reports of a major shipwreck in the Mediterranean, UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Rummery said Tuesday in Geneva.

Witnesses and survivors said Monday that a vessel carrying up to 500 migrants capsized, according to interviews conducted by broadcaster Voice of America.

No government authority or UN agency has been able to corroborate these accounts.

The UNHCR team was sent to the Greek city Kalamata, where the local port authority has confirmed the rescue of 41 people from a wooden boat.

Rummery noted, however, that "there is no official confirmation from the Greek authorities of a relation between the survivors and a larger incident."

"We cannot confirm anything until we have a direct testimony or something from official authorities," said Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the aid and advocacy group International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Rome.

According to reports that have surfaced so far, a boat sailed out of Egypt and met a smaller boat in the middle of the sea that had departed from Tobruk in Libya, Di Giacomo said.

Migrants from the Libyan boat were reportedly moved to the Egyptian boat at sea.

If the vessel really capsized and caused hundreds of deaths, bodies may start washing ashore in Libya in the coming hours, the IOM spokesman told dpa.

Somali government sources have said that there could be up to 200 Somalis among those who are feared dead.

Authorities of the east African country were trying to gather information through their embassies in Italy and Egypt, Somalia's Foreign Minister Abdisalam Omar Hadliye said on state-run radio Mogadishu on Tuesday.

Excluding the possible new shipwreck, 737 migrants and refugees have died so far this year as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to reach southern Europe, according to IOM.

Last update: Tue, 19/04/2016 - 18:14

More from World

Twitter cuts more jobs, ends Vine app in pursuit of profitability

The social media service Twitter will lay off about 9 per cent of its workforce worldwide, the company announced...

Lights out for Venezuela legislature amid political crisis

A power cut left Venezuela's National Assembly in the dark Thursday just before it was to open debate on a planned "...

Monitor: Regime recaptures rebel-held town in central Syria

Syrian regime troops on Thursday recaptured a key town from rebels in the central province of Hama following a major...

Attacks in Turkey's south-east as Kurds protest removal of mayors

Four Turkish soldiers were killed Thursday in the restive south-east in clashes with militants, while tensions mount...

Climate report: Australia will get hotter, drier, and see more fire

Australia will experience more extreme hot and dry days and a longer and fiercer fire season, while parts of the...