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Boat with up to 450 migrants capsizes off Egypt, 42 drowned

A boat carrying up to 450 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean off Egypt's north coast on Wednesday, drowning 42 people and prompting a search operation that rescued 163 passengers, officials said.

The vessel overturned off the port city of Rosetta, police and health officials said.

Five survivors, handcuffed to beds in a Rosetta hospital room, told AFP up to 450 people were on board.

"The boat sunk. My three children died," said Badr Abdel Hamid, 28, before breaking into tears.

"We were 450 people on board. We left at 2:00 am. An hour an half later, it capsized. Whoever knew how to swim, swam. We even abandoned the women and children," said Ahmed Mohamed, 27.

The boat sank some 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) from the coast and the victims included one child, 10 women and 31 young men, a municipal official in the Mediterranean city told AFP. 

They were Egyptians, Eritreans, Sudanese and Syrians, said the official, Ali Abdel Sattar.

"I just wanted to reach Europe and live a decent life," said Ahmed Gamal, 17.

The tragedy comes months after the EU's border agency Frontex warned that growing numbers of migrants bound for Europe were turning to Egypt as a departure point for the perilous sea journey.

Smugglers often overload the boats, some of them scarcely seaworthy, with passengers who have paid for the journey.

Egypt's Prime Minister Sharif Ismail ordered police to arrest the smugglers responsible, a cabinet statement said.

The military said in a statement that 163 passengers had been rescued so far, adding that they had stopped another boat elsewhere on the Mediterranean coast carrying 294 migrants.

With the search operating ongoing for an unknown number of people, health ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed told AFP that hospitals were being prepared to receive more casualties.

- Egypt becoming departure country' -

More than 10,000 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean for Europe since 2014, according to the United Nations.

Asylum-seekers have been seeking other ways to reach Europe since March, when Balkan countries closed the popular overland route and the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to halt departures.

"Egypt is starting to become a departure country," Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri said in an interview with the Funke group of German regional newspapers in June.

"The number of boat crossings from Egypt to Italy has reached 1,000 (so far) this year."

More than 300,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year from various points of departure, the UN said this week.

The number is down from 520,000 in the first nine months of 2015.

Topics: Europe , migrants , Egypt , accident , boat
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