Somalia's political leadership has issued condolences over unconfirmed reports saying that scores of migrants may have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Their boat had apparently lost communication after leaving Egypt.
The joint statement issued by the Somalia's president, prime minister and speaker of parliament stated that 400 migrants, mostly Somalis, had drowned. However, the Somali information minister later said that only 200 people had drowned.
"It's a painful tragedy which reminds us all how important it is for us to discourage our youth from embarking on such high risk journeys," the leaders' joint statement said. By Monday evening, however, officials were yet to confirm the story's veracity. .
Italian President Sergio Mattarella came closest, speaking at a prize ceremony in Rome, where he said Europe would need to reflect about "yet another tragedy in the Mediterranean in which, it seems, several hundred people have died." He did not give any further details.
Somali government spokesman Abdisalan Aato told Germany's DPA news agency that officials had meanwhile received "reports indicating that many Somalis died in this tragedy."
"Very few others were rescued by European maritime forces," Aato added.
The report of the alleged sinking came on the one-year anniversary of the shipwreck of a fishing boat crowded with some 800 smuggled migrants which sank to the seafloor. Only 28 survived.
No official confirmation
Unconfirmed media reports earlier on Monday spoke of 400 or more victims from boats which had capsized not far from the Egyptian coast as they attempted to take sail to Europe. Reports of the drownings started circulating among families and on social media but have remained unconfirmed by coast guard officials in Italy, Greece, Libya or Egypt. Frontex spokeswoman Izabella Cooper said the EU border protection agency had no confirmation of any such accident and was not involved in any search-and-rescue operation at the moment.
So far, only Italian President Sergio Mattarella confirmed the event at sea, with coast guards from several countries stating they had no reports about shipwrecked boats
Italy's coastguard said six bodies were recovered on Sunday and 108 migrants rescued from a semi-submerged rubber dinghy, but nothing of other sunken vessels. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said his country was still trying to get confirmation while the Greek coast guard said it had no reports of any boat sinking in the area.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said that his ministry had no information about the incident, adding that officials were checking the reports.
Libya's coast guard's spokesman, Ayoub Jassem, also said that he has no information on the reportedly drowned migrants, adding that he had only limited capabilities to stop the many boats leaving daily or to rescue those who were at risk of drowning.
However, shipwrecks in open seas are difficult to verify, with the recovery of bodies often being impossible. Authorities usually have to depend on the accounts of survivors and, in cases when boats are lost at sea without any rescue attempt, by relatives who report their failure to arrive in Europe.
ss/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa)