The grim search by Greek authorities for migrants after the country’s deadliest shipwreck in years moved into a second day on Thursday, though the prospects of finding survivors was slim and hundreds were feared to be missing after their fishing ship capsized about 50 miles off the coast.
Scores of bodies were recovered from the sea and 104 people were rescued on Wednesday, after their vessel foundered in the Mediterranean Sea, off the southern coast of Greece, five days after setting sail from Libya bound for Italy.
As several vessels helped gather the bodies from the sea, the Greek Shipping Ministry lowered the number of confirmed deaths by one, to 78, on Thursday morning after a count at the port of Kalamata, but the full toll is believed to be much higher.
Survivors have told Greek officials that as many as 500 people were aboard, according to a Shipping Ministry official, who spoke on a condition of anonymity in keeping with the ministry’s past practice.
Panagiotis Nikas, the regional governor for the Peloponnese region, told Greek news outlets on Wednesday that some survivors had suggested as many 750 passengers were on the ship, adding that the claim was being checked.
Photographs of the vessel, a fishing trawler, taken by a Greek Coast Guard helicopter on Tuesday showed it to be hugely overcrowded with people none of whom appeared to be wearing life vests.
A C-130 transport plane aided the search overnight, according to the ministry, launching flares into the night sky to illuminate the sea and trace any survivors, but no one was found.
Officials have conceded that any hopes of finding additional survivors, or even victims, are remote, because the boat sank in one of the deepest spots of the Mediterranean, where the seabed is at a depth of 4,000 meters, or about 2.5 miles.
Nevertheless, the efforts continued on Thursday. “There is no plan to stop the search,” Nikolaos Alexiou, a spokesman for the Greek Coast Guard, told state television. “We’re continuing and the search will broaden.”
The survivors will be moved to a state camp in Malakasa, north of Athens, as soon as processing by coast guard officials has been completed, the migration ministry said. The authorities were questioning several people from the ship who were believed to be smugglers, state television reported.
The survivors, all men, are believed to be from Syria, Egypt and Pakistan. It remained unclear how many women and children might be among the missing.
The tragedy unfolded as Greece is preparing for a general election on June 25, and it has prompted political leaders to suspend campaigning as a caretaker government announced three days of national mourning.
The migration issue is already very sensitive in Greece, especially in light of the government’s tactics aimed at deterring migration, an approach that has widespread support but has been roundly criticized by rights groups.
Greece is a major destination for migrants trying to make their way to Europe, and the sinking was the deadliest such episode off its coast since before 2015, when 70 people died after a boat carrying migrants sank near the island off Lesbos, according to the International Organization for Migration.