Hope fades for illegals lost at sea
23 June 2003

RESCUERS off the coast of Tunisia scaled down their search yesterday for nearly 200 illegal immigrants missing after their overloaded boat capsized on its way to Europe.

"We do not have much chance of finding survivors. The units already operational are trying to recover the corpses of the drowned," Colonel Adel Garma of the national guard said yesterday, about 36 hours after the boat went down.

A strong wind and deteriorating weather may mean that no more bodies are found.

Twelve people were confirmed drowned, their bodies taken from the sea by rescuers, 197 were missing and 41 survived after the boat laden with illegal immigrants from Africa capsized in high seas southeast of the Tunisian industrial city of Sfax.

The survivors, including a pregnant woman, said they spent five hours in the open sea before being rescued by fishing crews.

The boat, "overloaded and in bad condition", sank overnight carrying about 250 people including nationals of Mali, Ghana, Somalia, Egypt and Morocco it picked up off the coast of neighbouring Libya on Thursday before heading for Italy, survivors said.

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