ROSETTA, Egypt – Egyptian authorities on Thursday arrested four people in connection with the death of at least 42 migrants whose Europe-bound boat capsized off Egypt's Mediterranean coast.
Officials said the four were members of the vessel's crew and were remanded in police custody for four days pending further investigation. They face charges of human trafficking and manslaughter.
Authorities also issued arrest warrants for five more people wanted in connection with the tragedy, according to the officials.
The Egyptian military said the boat was 12 nautical miles off the coast near the town of Rosetta when it capsized Wednesday.
Mohammed Sultan, the governor of Beheira province, where Rosetta is located, told The Associated Press that authorities did not have a precise number for those who were on board the vessel, but 250-400 seemed likely. He said 157 people were rescued.
An initial breakdown of the nationalities of the migrants showed that they included 111 Egyptians, mostly teenagers and men in their 20s, said Sultan. There were also 25 Sudanese, while the rest were sub-Saharan Africans and Syrians. The search for bodies and survivors has been expanded around the spot where the vessel capsized, he added.
Thousands of illegal migrants have made the dangerous sea voyage across the Mediterranean in recent years, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Egypt to Europe has increased significantly in the past year, EU border agency Frontex recently said. More than 12,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Egypt between January and September, compared to 7,000 in the same period last year, it said. Experts say smugglers in Egypt mostly use old fishing vessels, stuffed way beyond capacity both below and above deck.
Many of the survivors in the latest incident have been detained by police. Some of those rescued who suffered injuries were taken to hospitals, where they lie handcuffed to hospital beds under police guard.
One survivor, Ahmed Darwish, blamed traffickers for the tragedy, saying overcrowding caused the boat to capsize, and accused authorities of not reacting quickly enough.
"What happened was a wrong, it was wrong on our part first of all (to attempt the crossing), but it was also wrong on the part of the people (traffickers) who don't have a bit of mercy in their hearts," he told the AP. "The boat is meant to hold 200, and they put 400 in it. And this is what caused the catastrophe."
Darwish said he believed many of those who died were women and children who could not swim. "Those ... that knew how to swim moved away (from the boat), leaving behind women and small children," he said, describing what happened after the boat capsized.
Associated Press writer Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.