Rescue workers on Tuesday pulled dozens of bodies from the hold of an Egyptian fishing boat that sank in the Mediterranean Sea carrying hundreds of migrants trying to make it to Europe, bringing the toll from the disaster to more than 200 dead.
As the dead were brought to a pier outside the coastal city of Rosetta, families of the missing went through the grisly task of searching through the body bags for their loved ones. Women broke into screams and some men collapsed whenever they recognized someone, some only by their clothes, because of the bodies’ conditions after nearly a week in the water.
For days, authorities and fishermen have been recovering bodies from the water or finding them washed up to the shore, ever since the boat capsized and sank before dawn on Sept. 21, about 7.5 miles off the Egyptian coast.
Around 160 of those on board survived, many of them spending hours in the water until rescued by local fishing boats. Families of those still missing have been camped out all week at the piers, waiting for word on their loved ones, and angrily accusing authorities of not doing enough to find them.
On Tuesday, a crane vessel hauled the boat, called the Mawkib al-Rasoul, out of the mud of the seafloor so that authorities could retrieve the dead trapped in the hold, including a cramped section known as the “fridge,” where fishermen normally keep their catch on ice.
Authorities pulled 33 dead out of the hold, bringing the toll to 203, the head of a local municipal council, Ali Abdel-Sattar, told The Associated Press.
At the pier, emergency officials wore white medical masks against the smell of the bodies. They announced that no more bodies were found in the hold, angering relatives of those who still had not been found, many of whom were convinced from earlier reports that more dead were in the hold.
A woman whose two sons were on the boat found one of them, 18-year-old Ahmed, among the bodies brought to the pier. She said he no longer had a face after the days in the water.
“Only his clothes showed that it’s him,” she said. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared harassment by police.
But her other son was still missing.
The boat was overcrowded with hundreds of people, but the exact number is not known, with estimates from officials ranging from 400 to 600. Most were believed to be Egyptians, many of them young men from poor villages in the Nile Delta, with some others from Sudan or other African countries, and at least one Syrian woman whose body was found washed ashore.
The sea route from Egypt to Europe has become increasingly popular for migrants. This year, more than 12,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Egypt between January and September, compared to 7,000 in the same period last year, according to the EU border agency Frontex. Egyptian authorities have so far in 2016 foiled 110 attempts to smuggle migrants to Europe.