Pope offers prayers after migrant boat capsizes near Greece
VATICAN CITY CNS – As search, rescue and recovery operations continued in the Mediterranean Sea off the Greek coast, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the 79 people known to have died, for the more than 100 migrants pulled from the sea alive and for the hundreds still missing after a ship capsized and sank.
"Deeply dismayed to learn of the shipwreck off the coast of Greece with its devastating loss of life, His Holiness Pope Francis offers heartfelt prayers for the many migrants who have died, their loved ones and all those traumatized by this tragedy," said a telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.
"Upon the survivors, those providing them with care and shelter, and the emergency personnel, His Holiness invokes Almighty God's gifts of strength, perseverance and hope," said the telegram sent June 15 to Archbishop Jan Pawlowski, the papal nuncio to Greece.
A fishing boat, packed with migrants – estimates ranged from 500 to 700 people onboard – sank June 14 off the Greek coast as it attempted to travel from Tobruk, Libya, to southern Italy.
Greek officials claimed those running the boat refused offers of help. Agencies that assist migrants, including several that help coordinate rescues, said the Greek coast guard had been advised hours before the boat sank that it was in distress.
Alarm Phone, a volunteer organization that receives distress calls, said it alerted the coast guard the afternoon before the boat sank.
The coast guard has said the people on the boat did not want to be rescued by Greek authorities.
"People on the move know that thousands have been shot at, beaten and abandoned at sea by these Greek forces," Alarm Phone said June 14. "It is due to systematic pushbacks that boats are trying to avoid Greece, navigating much longer routes and risking lives at sea."
Five days before the boat capsized, the Missing Migrants Project of the U.N.-related International Organization for Migration reported that 1,289 migrants were dead or missing after attempting to cross the Mediterranean since Jan. 1; the number included 74 children.