Fifty refugees 'locked below deck' feared killed on sinking cargo ship

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The Independent Online

About 50 refugees were believed to have died yesterday, locked in the hold of a cargo ship that foundered in the Mediterranean. The Georgian-flagged Pati broke in two on rocks off the southern Turkish coast after sending out an SOS message reporting mechanical failure.

About 50 refugees were believed to have died yesterday, locked in the hold of a cargo ship that foundered in the Mediterranean. The Georgian-flagged Pati broke in two on rocks off the southern Turkish coast after sending out an SOS message reporting mechanical failure.

Survivors told Turkish rescuers that they had not been fed for three days, and had spent New Year's Eve hidden in the cargo ship, which was smuggling them to Greece and onward within the European Union. One Pakistani man said he had been locked in the hold with 50 other people.

Rescuers believe that at least 83 people, 10 crew members and 73 refugees, were on board the Pati when she sank. Only 32 survived: six of the crew, including the captain, and refugees from Pakistan and Iran. Six were known to have drowned, and 45 were believed to be missing.

Can Karaca, leader of the rescue operation, said there was "little hope" of finding the missing refugees alive. They were believed to have been in a portion of the ship that sank. Survivors said there were Afghans, Moroccans, Indians and Bangladeshis on board, as well as Pakistanis and Iranians.

The rescue operation was called off because of 45mph winds and 15ft waves.

The captain of the Pati, identified as Captain Galanis, a Greek national, was detained for questioning by Turkish police. Refugees rescued from the ship were also in police custody. Two survivors were in hospital, suffering from shock.

Where or when the refugees boarded the Pati was not clear. The ship arrived in Turkey from Israel last week. She was unable to pick up her intended cargo of cement and left the southern Turkish port of Antalya registered as empty. Turkish coastguards received an SOS from her early yesterday, but were unable to reach her before she ran aground.

Thousands of refugees each year make dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean and Aegean, often in barely seaworthy ships, trying to seek asylum in western Europe.

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