Rescue workers have so far saved 154 people, officials said, meaning about 400 could still be missing.
“Initial information indicates that the boat sank because it was carrying more people than its limit. The boat tilted and the migrants fell into the water,” a senior security official in Beheira told Reuters.
The boat had been carrying Egyptian, Sudanese, Eritrean, and Somali migrants, officials said.
At a coastguard checkpoint in Burg Rashid, where the Mediterranean meets the Nile, dozens gathered, anxiously waiting for news of missing relatives.
“I am not going to leave until I see Mohamed,” Ratiba Ghonim wailed. Her 16-year-old brother had left an impoverished village nearby in search of a better life.
“It is his destiny to leave yesterday and come back dead today. They still haven’t pulled his body out of the water.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said all resources possible would be directed into the rescue mission and that those responsible had to be brought to justice.
It was not immediately clear where the boat had been heading. Officials said they believed it was going to Italy.
“MORE WILL SAIL TONIGHT”
More and more people have been trying to cross to Italy from the African coast over the summer months, particularly from Libya, where people-traffickers operate with relative impunity, but also from Egypt.
Some 320 migrants and refugees drowned off the Greek island of Crete in June. Migrants who survived told authorities their boat had set sail from Egypt.
Some 206,400 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.
More than 2,800 deaths were recorded between January and June, compared with 1,838 during the same period last year.
World leaders, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, gathered in New York this week at the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the migrant crisis.
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Some 1.3 million migrants reached Europe’s shores last year fleeing war and economic hardship, prompting bitter rows among states over how to share responsibility.
If they survive the perilous maritime journey, migrants this year face stronger EU border controls.
Mohamed Nasrawy, an Egyptian fisherman, said he knew seven people on the shipwrecked vessel, two of whom were still missing.
He made an abortive effort to travel to Greece a year ago.
“Look how this incident has shocked people, but tonight more people are going to set sail,” he told Reuters.
“The poverty that they are living in is what is pushing them. Although we are not Europeans, they take good care of people, while our country doesn’t.”