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Pakistan widens manhunt for human traffickers after boat carrying hundreds sank off Greek coast

ISLAMABAD (AP) – Pakistan yesterday widened its manhunt for human traffickers after a tragedy off the Greek coast last week that left more than 500 migrants feared drowned, including many Pakistanis, officials said.

With no definitive casualty numbers announced, families feared for the fate of their loved ones and the nation observed a day of mourning yesterday, declared by Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government.

The Pakistani flag was flying at half-staff, and lawmakers in the National Assembly, the Lower H ouse of the Parliament, expressed their condolences. The fishing trawler packed with migrants overturned and went down early Wednesday off southwestern Greece in one of the deadliest-ever incidents in the central Mediterranean Sea.

The vessel was carrying as many as 750 people, including scores of Pakistanis, when it sank in international waters. A search-and-rescue operation has since been underway.

Pakistan’s Embassy in Athens has so far identified 12 Pakistani nationals rescued by the coast guard.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan said the country’s Federal Investigation Agency launched a crackdown against human smugglers, arresting key suspects in the eastern city of Lahore and Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province.

“All the people involved in this tragedy will be brought to justice,” the minister pledged in a statement, adding that Sharif’s government will further toughen existing laws to include harsh punishments for human traffickers.

So far, authorities have detained nearly two dozen suspects, including two key suspected traffickers in Pakistan, and at least 12 people involved in sending young men to Libya for the onward journey to Europe.

Senior Pakistani officer Khalid Chauhan said on Sunday that police picked up the suspects amid the crackdown on traffickers and were interrogating them for their alleged roles in luring, trapping and extracting huge amounts of money to send the men abroad.

Survivors of a shipwreck sleep at a warehouse at the port in Kalamata town, southwest of Athens, Greece. PHOTO: AP