After a shipwreck, a rope puts the Greek coast guard in need of explanation

If the information is confirmed, the boat accident off Pylos is the greatest recent maritime tragedy and, in terms of the number of victims, even surpasses the catastrophe off Lampedusa in 2013. A total of 355 refugees died there on October 3, 2013. The Greek authorities have corrected the number of dead recovered to 78. They officially assume 568 missing. No life jackets were found. The boat occupants traveled without any protection. The 104 survivors are from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt.

Found the brother he believed dead

They are poignant scenes of joy, a small ray of hope in the sad port of Kalamata. A heartfelt hug through a security fence, a few seconds captured by the television stations’ cameras. The Syrian Fardi traveled to Kalamata from the Netherlands, believing that his younger brother Mohammed had drowned. He could not find him and only saw him just before the survivors were driven by the Greek authorities to the Malakassa camp, 40 kilometers north of central Athens. Mohammed didn’t make it to Italy as he had hoped, but he’s alive. Tears of joy flow, the 18-year-old Mohammed can hardly speak, the emotions overwhelm him so intensely.

More happy scenes are hardly to be expected. The rescue workers are still trying to find survivors at the scene of the accident. Hopes are fading. Since 104 men aged 15 to 49 were rescued alive on Wednesday, there has been no sign of other boat occupants around the accident point 47 nautical miles southwest of Pylos. Divers can do little here, the sea is more than 5000 meters deep. A patrol ship, a seagoing ship, a frigate and nine sailing ships are deployed, while three helicopters operate from the air. The rescue operation after the accident is exemplary, but there are allegations from many quarters about the behavior of the coast guard before the capsize. Could she have prevented the accident?

“We did everything we had to do”

Lieutenant Commander Nikos Alexiou, as Coast Guard spokesman, has his hands full trying to calm things down. “If we had intervened earlier, we would have triggered the disaster,” he told SKAI TV. He added that the Coast Guard was not a simple observer as the fishing vessel proceeded. “There are no simple observers who save 104 fellow human beings. We were there trying to convince them to accept help. They didn’t see the danger.”

Alexiou does not want to accept a counter-argument, also voiced by SYRIZA party leader Alexis Tsipras, that, for example, an immediate intervention would have taken place on a ship with drugs. Unlike a drug ship, with a cutter so overloaded with people there is always the danger that panic among the people on board will cause the ship to capsize. He also emphasizes that there is a difference between drug smuggling and people smuggling. “We are not allowed to board a ship in international waters that is not involved in drug smuggling or any other specific crime. The boat transported – illegally – people,” says Alexiou. An opinion that is not shared by Greek sea accident experts and lawyers. They stress that there would have been a duty to intervene.

Regarding the chronology of events, the spokesman explains: “We were made aware of the existence of the ship by the Italian coast guard. We did everything we had to do. The ship was located, hit by cargo ships. They received provisions and water and then refused further help. Later came our own Coast Guard boat, a 25 to 30 meter long boat. They explained to us that they didn’t want rescue and didn’t want to come to Greece. When we saw the situation, we didn’t drive away, but stayed on a parallel course. In the morning, her engine cut out and people panicked. The boat lost its center of gravity and capsized.”

The human rights activist Nawal Soufi, who claims to have had contact with inmates on board, disagrees. They neither refused the offer of help nor had a problem coming to Greece.

What’s with the rope?

The Coast Guard has given a photo to the press, which should show the cutter shortly before capsizing. A rope can be seen on the starboard stern of the cutter. Was there an attempt to tow the cutter into Italy’s SAR zone with this rope? Did it capsize due to towing too fast? These are questions that the politician Crito Arsenis (MeRA25) went public with. There is testimony from survivors claiming that the Coast Guard threw the rope. The Coast Guard, on the other hand, claimed until Friday morning that it was not they but a merchant ship who threw the rope. The Coast Guard did not throw any rope to the cutter, it said.

On Friday morning, acting government spokesman Ilias Siagandaris finally admitted that a rope had been thrown but claimed the action took place two hours before the capsize. The government spokesman admits that it would take time to clarify all the circumstances in detail. The survivors and the nine Egyptians identified as smugglers must be questioned and interrogated. The Egyptians identified by the survivors as smugglers face a lengthy indictment with a possible total sentence of several decades.

Meanwhile, there are the wildest theories in the Greek press about the photos released by the Coast Guard. These are still images from videos and the coast guard must have a video document of the processes, the accusation is. Alexiou denies that too.

Lawyer Kostas Daltas doubts this in a statement on Mega TV, “Frontex and Coast Guard ships and aircraft have cameras … there are cases where we have eight hours of video footage from a Frontex aircraft … so it should certainly give video footage. And if it doesn’t exist, an explanation should be given as to why it doesn’t exist. In my office I have in a file a whole CD with eight hours of video from a Frontex plane and a Greek Coast Guard aircraft.”

Jean Harris

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