CAIRO — President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said on Monday that Egyptians must join hands with his government to prevent a repeat of the tragedy that struck last week when a Europe-bound boat carrying hundreds of migrants sank in the Mediterranean off the Egyptian coast, with the loss of at least 170 lives.
In his first public comments on the incident, el-Sissi said the government could not alone safeguard the country's porous land and sea borders. "As a state, along with its institutions, we are concerned and committed to safeguarding our borders and prevent this, but society must contribute to the effort so this is never repeated."
Many of the Egyptians who were on board the boat were unescorted minors or single men in their early 20s looking for work in western Europe. The fact that they were willing to risk their lives to reach Europe has brought into focus Egypt's harsh economic realities, with many of the country's 91 million people struggling to cope with double digit unemployment and rising inflation among a host of economic woes.
El-Sissi used his televised address to reassure Egyptians that everything was being done to revitalize the country's ailing economy, but also to urge patience.
"There is hope, but we will not be able to overcome all the challenges in one, two or four years. No, it will take time," he said. "We have not forgotten about you, but it takes times to achieve results," said el-Sissi, who said that there was no justification for so many to die.
El-Sissi spoke shortly after a Health Ministry official said a total of 170 bodies have been pulled from the waters, five days after the boat sank, an increase of eight bodies from the last official count.
The death toll was expected to rise as many bodies are believed to be trapped inside the boat's refrigerator, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press.
The boat is believed to be lying at a depth of 15 meters (49 feet) about 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Egyptian shores.
Governor Mohammed Sultan of the coastal Beheira province told The Associated Press that a vessel was being sent by British Petroleum with specialized equipment to help lift the 80-ton fishing boat.