Photo: AP

Reports emerged Monday, citing an interview given to BBC Arabic by the Somali ambassador to Egypt, claiming that as many as 400 refugees drowned after their boats capsized between Egypt and Italy. The Greek Coast Guard and the Italian and Maltese rescue coordination centers denied any knowledge of such an incident.

According to early reports, between a half-dozen and two dozen survivors were rescued from the wrecks off the coast of the Greek island of Crete. Where they were taken and who purportedly rescued them remains unclear, in part because officials deny that such a rescue happened at all.

“There was no such incident off Greece. I think the information is incorrect,” a spokeswoman for the Greek Coast Guard said. “Whatever the case, this did not happen in Greek waters and nobody was rescued off a vessel with 400 to 500 people on board.” From Migrant Report:

UNHCR in Greece told MR its enquiries about any survivors being brought to Crete or the nearby island of Karpathos both turned up a blank.

By mid morning the incident was being reported on by large news outlets, including the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Sky News, The Independent and even the British tabloid Daily Mail among others.

However, they all seem to hinge off the same BBC Arabic report. A somali woman who is quoted by the BBC Somali service says she lost three relatives on a boat that capsized.

The mysterious incident was reported on the first anniversary of a horrific shipwreck, in which some 850 refugees drowned last year. This weekend, Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos, and returned to the Vatican with three refugee families.

Elsewhere this weekend, according to the organization SOS Mediterranee, six bodies were found and 108 migrants rescued from a partially-submerged rubber dinghy. So far this year, the UN reports around 180,000 people have sought to reach Europe by sea. Nearly 800 people have reportedly drowned attempting the voyage.