Sinking ranks as one of the deadliest incidents for migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
An Egyptian Health Ministry official said a total of 170 bodies have been pulled from the water as of Monday, five days after a boat carrying about 600 migrants and refugees capsised in the Mediterranean while attempting to head to Europe.
The death toll is expected to rise as many bodies are believed to be trapped inside the boat, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to speak to the press.
The vessel is believed to be at a depth of 15 metres, about 18km from Egyptian shores. Earlier reports indicated at least 160 people had been rescued after it went down off the coastal town of Rosetta on Wednesday.
Over 160 bodies recovered from Egypt refugee shipwreck
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Monday called on his people to avoid risking their lives. "I tell everyone that our country needs its people," he said in his first public comments on the boat disaster.
Tightening control on Egypt’s 5,000-km-long border requires "huge efforts," Sisi added in his televised remarks.
"Society should join hands with the state in confronting illegal migration operations," he said.
Governor Mohammed Sultan of Beheira province told the Associated Press news agency a vessel was sent by British Petroleum with specialised equipment to help lift the 80-tonne boat.
According to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project, 3,501 migrants and refugees have died so far this year while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
More and more people have been trying to cross to Italy from the North African coastline in recent months as the weather improves, particularly from Libya, where people-traffickers operate with relative impunity, but also from Egypt.
The IOM has recorded roughly 206,400 refugees crossing the Mediterranean this year.