The death toll from a refugee boat sinking off Egypt’s coast has risen to 162, as rescuers recovered more bodies from the Mediterranean.
Survivors have said up to 450 people were on board the overcrowded fishing vessel that was heading to Italy from Egypt when it capsized off the port city of Rosetta on Wednesday.
The bodies of 162 people had been pulled from the waters off the Egyptian coast, Mohammed Sultan, the governor of Beheira province, where Rosetta is located, told the Associated Press on Friday.
An earlier official toll on Friday had put the number of dead at 148.
The military said that it had rescued 163 survivors, and recovery attempts were continuing.
There are fears the death toll could rise further, with rescuers focusing their efforts on the boat’s hold where witnesses said around 100 people had been when the vessel flipped over.
In a new report on Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that “as many as 240 [people are still] unaccounted for or presumed missing” from the shipwreck.
“Normally in such situations, ‘missing’ migrants are presumed drowned, their remains never recovered,” it said.
The IOM said most of those rescued were Egyptians, but also included Sudanese, Eritreans, a Syrian and an Ethiopian.
Authorities arrested four suspected people traffickers on Thursday over the incident, the latest in what the UN refugee agency expects to be the deadliest year on record for the Mediterranean.
The accident comes months after the EU border agency Frontex warned that growing numbers of Europe-bound refugees were using Egypt as a departure point for the dangerous journey.
People-traffickers often use barely seaworthy vessels and overload them to extract the maximum money in fares from desperate refugees.
The IOM reported on Friday that 300,450 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea in 2016 through September 21, arriving mostly in Greece and Italy. Some 166,050 people have arrived in Greece and 130,567 in Italy during 2016.
Total arrivals for the entire month of September last year were 518,181 – nearly 50 percent higher than 2016’s totals, with slightly over a week remaining before the start of October.
Deaths, however, are considerably higher than last year’s total of 2,887 on this date.
According to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, this year’s death toll stand at 3,501, including the people who died in the latest tragedy off Egypt.