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Capsized Migrant Boat Off Greece ‘Had 100 Children in Hold’

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People covered practically every free stretch of the deck on a battered fishing boat before it sank. Credit: Hellenic Coast Guard

Officials have expressed fears that as many as 100 children may have perished when a migrant boat with hundreds on board capsized off Greece on Wednesday.

Greek officials said the boat may have been carrying as many as 750 people. At least 78 people died in Tuesday’s incident with a further 104 men and boys rescued.

But the death toll is feared to be much higher, with hundreds of passengers still unaccounted for and eyewitness accounts stating that many were trapped within the hold of the ship.

Daniel Gorevan, Senior Advocacy Advisor at Save the Children, said: “Reports of at least 78 migrants dead off the coast of Greece are shocking. According to initial testimonies from survivors, 100 children were in the hold, with the death toll expected to increase.”

The United Nations (UN) migration agency, known as IOM, has estimated that at least 40 children are among those thought to be missing. The estimation was based on interviews conducted with survivors.

A senior doctor at Kalamata General Hospital told the BBC as many as 100 children were on the vessel. “[The survivors] told us there were children in the bottom of the ship. Children and women,” said Dr Manolis Makaris, head of cardiology.

He said two patients had given him estimated figures. “One told me about 100 children, the other about 50, so I don’t know the truth – but it is many,” he added.

Dr Makaris said he believed as many as 600 people could have died in the disaster.

“The exact number of all the people who were on the boat was 750. This is the exact number that everyone told me about this,” he said.

A reporter from Greece’s ANT1 channel asked a survivor if there were 100 children on board, to which the survivor replied: “Yes.”

Greek government spokesman Ilias Siakantaris said it was not known how many people were in the hold: “But we know that several smugglers lock people up to maintain control.”

Related: Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean: The Broader Picture

Greece arrests 9 suspected traffickers of migrant boat

Greek police arrested nine people on suspicion of being the human traffickers behind the fatal shipwreck incident.

The suspects were all Egyptians, and are facing charges of forming a criminal organization and illegal trafficking of migrants. All 9 were among the 104 rescued.

Greek authorities said that the migrant boat originally left an Egyptian port for the area of Tobruk in eastern Libya, where it picked up the migrants.

Relatives of the migrants – who each paid thousands of dollars for passage on the battered vessel – gathered in the southern port city of Kalamata to look for their loved ones.

Related: Could the Coast Guard Have Averted the Migrant Boat Disaster in Greece?

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