By Abdi Guled (AP)
The leaders of Somalia issued a joint condolence message to the nation Monday over an unconfirmed report that some migrants may have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on a trip from Libya to Italy.
Reports of the drownings circulated among families and on social media but remained unconfirmed by coast guard authorities in Italy, Greece, Libya and Egypt.
Somalia’s state radio quoted the Somali Embassy in Egypt in reporting the incident.
The joint statement from the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament said 400 migrants, mostly Somalis, drowned in the capsizing in the Mediterranean. But the Somali information minister later said 200 drowned and still other reports after that said even fewer had drowned.
“It’s a painful tragedy which reminds us all how important it is for us to discourage our youth from embarking on such high risk journeys,” the statement said.
Many people saw on Facebook the “I am Somali” page which included a montage of photos of young people who it said were Somalis who had drowned. It was not possible to verify the identities of those in the post.
“Very painful, death of nearly 400 Somalian young men and women near the Egyptian coast … most of them are students in Sudanese and Egyptian universities,” said one post.
Another post read: “April 17, 2016 – black day.”
A Somali news website, Goobjoog News, carried an interview with Awale Warsame, who said he is a survivor of the incident.
“There were 500 passengers, mostly Somalis on the boat, but only 23 people survived,” he said. “Survivors, including me, had to use broken wood pieces from the capsized boat to float over waters before we were rescued. We had travelled from Egypt, especially Alexandria, on April 7th and the boat capsized on April 12 but we were rescued by a Filipino ship off a Greek island five days later.”
Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said his office had no information and officials are checking the reports.
Ayoub Jassem, a spokesman for Libya’s coast guard, said he has no information on the migrants and that scores of boats leave the Libyan shores every day and they have very limited capabilities to stop them or rescue those at risk of drowning.
A top Somali diplomat in Cairo told AP that “we have no official confirmation on the reports and they are working with the Egyptians to verify them.”
The Greek coast guard said it had no report of a boat sinking in the area. On Saturday, it said a merchant vessel had rescued 41 migrants about 95 nautical miles (110 miles, 175 kilometers) off Greece’s southwest coast after their wooden boat lost steering. The coast guard said those rescued boarded a Filipino-flagged merchant ship, which arrived at the southern Greek port of Kalamata early Sunday. The migrants on board were reportedly from Egypt, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan.
Shipwrecks in open seas are difficult, if not impossible, to verify, and it is frequently impossible to even recover the dead. Such accidents are often reported only by survivors or by relatives who report the failure of their loved ones to arrive in Europe.
The report of the sinking came on the anniversary of the shipwreck of a fishing boat crowded with about 800 people on board. Only 28 survived.
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reacted to the reports on the front page Monday with the headline, “Yet another massacre,” recalling the anniversary of the shipwreck near Lampedusa.
The newspaper wrote: “The migrant drama knows no end.”