Nicosia ‘deeply saddened’ by migrant tragedy off Greece 

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The Foreign Ministry said it is “deeply saddened” by the tragic news of the shipwreck off Pylos, Greece, that claimed the lives of at least 79 migrants.

In a Twitter post, the ministry expressed its “utmost appreciation and respect for the Hellenic Coast Guard for their ongoing, tireless efforts to rescue as many people as possible”.

At least 79 migrants died after their fishing boat sank off the Peloponnese, Greece’s coastguard said Wednesday, as fears mount that the death toll could rise much higher.

Some 100 people were rescued after the boat capsized in international waters in the Ionian Sea in an operation complicated by strong winds.

Authorities said it remained unclear how many were on board when the vessel went under.

The coast guard said the boat en route to Italy was spotted in international waters late on Tuesday by an aircraft belonging to EU border agency Frontex and two nearby vessels, around 80 km southwest of Pylos in southern Greece.

It said those on board had refused assistance offered by Greek authorities late on Tuesday. A few hours later, the boat capsized and sank, triggering a search and rescue operation.

State broadcaster ERT said it had sailed from the Libyan town of Tobruk, which lies south of the Greek island of Crete, with most onboard young men in their 20s.

Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Most cross to Greek islands from nearby Turkey, but many boats also undertake a longer, more dangerous journey from Turkey to Italy via Greece.

About 72,000 refugees and migrants have arrived so far this year in Europe’s frontline countries, Italy, Spain, Greece, Malta, and Cyprus, according to United Nations data, with the majority landing in Italy.

A European rescue-support charity believed around 750 people were on board the 20- to 30-metre-long vessel.

The UN’s migration agency estimated up to 400, while Greece declined to speculate on the passenger count.

The shipwreck was the deadliest off Greece in several years. In February, 96 people died when their wooden boat smashed into rocks on Italy’s Calabrian coast during a storm.

Greece has declared three days of national mourning.

Nearly 1,000 people are estimated to have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean this year, according to the UN.