Greece wreck survivors retell story of coastguard abuse, complicity
In the first in-depth testimonies of survivors, Greece's coastguard is accused of neglect and cruelty, waiting hours before saving migrants with a broken engine.
After a boat capsized and sank in the Ionian Sea last Wednesday, reports that show a contradicting tale that led to the tragic event have begun surfacing. In the first in-depth testimonies of survivors to The Sunday Times, Greece's coastguard is accused of mass neglect and cruelty.
Greece's coastguard reported that so far, 78 bodies had been found, while nearly 500 remain missing.
Two days ago, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, based on the accounts of survivors, presented a different account of events from that of Greek authorities, revealing that the boat with hundreds of people had started "toward the coast of the Peloponnese" and did not eventually set a course for the coast of Calabria in Italy.
According to La Repubblica, the boat's engine had problems about six hours after the journey began with several of the migrants even asking to be returned to Libya, but the captain and the traffickers continued on their way.
'They just watched'
Survivors such as Ayad, 24, from Syria, told The Sunday Times that the boat sank 45 miles southwest of Greece's southern Peloponnese peninsula, but no one assisted them. His testimony was corroborated by four other survivors who recall that the Greek coastguard did not provide assistance for at least three hours after the boat capsized: from around midnight last Wednesday until the first rays of sunlight appeared. “They just watched,” Ayad stated. “They could have saved so many more.”
Moment Syrian survivor Mohammad who was rescued after migrant boat he was on capsized off the coast of Greece on 14.06.2023 cries as he reunites with his brother Fadi who came to meet him from the Netherlands.— Qays Sediqi (@QaysSediqi) June 17, 2023
They’re humans, they have feelings like you and I #GreeceBoatDisaster pic.twitter.com/dzdd7OttDP
Not only did they watch, but they may have caused the boat to capsize by attaching a rope to the prow and pushing forward, destabilizing the vessel. A survivor whose tale was published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and a lawmaker who talked to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini (relaying a conversation with yet another victim) both related identical accounts.
NEW: Tracking data of ships suggests the migrant boat that sank off Greece was hardly moving in the 7 hours before.— Nick Beake (@Beaking_News) June 18, 2023
Totally contradicts Greek coastguard's claim it was on “steady course & speed” & so didn’t need rescue.@KallergisK's & my investigationhttps://t.co/wqfvR5WiKl
The Greek coastguard's spokesperson, Nikos Alexiou, denied making "any move" that may have endangered the migrants, calling the allegations "bullshit" and "lies".
“There was no push, tug, hug or whatever,” he claimed, apparently irritated by the charges. "We approached and tied up for five minutes to try to make contact and to talk to them."
Greece boat disaster: Ship tracking casts doubt on Greek Coastguard's account.— Lou Calvey (@LouCalvey) June 18, 2023
They left them because they thought those humans don’t matter… they’ve lied because they thought people wouldn’t care enough to check https://t.co/UnvIIXcmpf pic.twitter.com/m19JFy0YW9
Ayad recalls that passengers were in the heat for days with no food or water. The engine failed on the fifth day, June 13, about 45 kilometers off the coast of Greece.
Passengers called the Italian coastguard with a satellite phone, who then contacted the Greek coastguard and Frontex, the European border protection agency, who sent a plane to investigate.
According to Ayad, “The Italians [called us and] said there’s a ship close to you and they’ll bring you some food," explaining that another boat would come from Greece and that they should follow it.
You're watching mass resistance in #Athens this evening as 1000's come out onto the streets to protest the refugee massacre in Greece this week. Borders kill. Governments kill. Solidarity with migrants. No human being's illegal. #antireportpic.twitter.com/yxuhFXc1YX— GhostofDurruti (@DurrutiRiot) June 15, 2023
Two large ships arrived during the afternoon: a Maltese freighter and a Greek freighter. One of them dropped a large package of food in the sea, which a number of people swam out to pick up and brought back to the ship.
According to Greek officials, that evening, a ship deployed by the Hellenic coastguard approached the fishing vessel, throwing ropes on its rails in an attempt to maneuver closer. However, they claim that after about five minutes, the migrants tossed the ropes back, refusing help.
The claim of migrants refusing help was refuted by a photo released by Frontex, which shows hundreds of migrants with their hands raised, which clearly shows them pleading for help while the boat was still sailing, as reported by La Repubblica.
According to the witnesses, the Greek coastguard vessel hooked a rope to the prow of the fishing vessel and attempted to tow it. The rope then snapped. They hooked another and began to move forward before abruptly turning left and right.
Witnesses say that motion caused the boat to rock heavily and capsize.
Afterward, Ayad and others say the Greek coastguard remained nearby for hours and ignored calls for help.
Rescuers beat survivors
Once boats arrived from Greece, Ayad details rescuers beating survivors and "shouting at us to shut up," leaving him with a black eye.
National authorities are required by international maritime law to initiate urgent rescue efforts on ships in trouble, regardless of whether individuals on board seek aid.
Greece's coast guard claims that the boat turned down repeated offers of assistance from both its ships and merchant boats in the region and that its captain "wanted to continue to Italy."
I took video footage from many angles of the protest on the streets of the capital Athens against the massacre of refugees off the coast of Greece under the watchful eyes of Frontex and the Coast Guard.— Vedat Yeler (@vedatyeler_) June 15, 2023
Thousands of people took to the streets against the EU and Greece policies… pic.twitter.com/DJapfiibqG
Human rights activist Nawal Soufi recalls the events as they happened on social media. On Tuesday, at 11 am Greek time, authorities in Italy told Greece that a fishing trawler full of migrants was in waters south of the Peloponnese.
“Dramatic situation on board. They need immediate rescue,” Soufi wrote on Tuesday morning.
Although the Associated Press could not reach Soufi, she details calls with those on board. At 3:11 pm, the activist wrote about how seven people were unconscious.
Alarm Phone, an activist hotline for migrants, announced that they also received a call from someone on the trawler detailing they "cannot survive the night" and are in heavy distress.
A Greek coastguard helicopter reported that the trawler was “sailing on a steady course and heading" at 6 pm, however, at 6:20 pm, Alarm Phone reported that people on board said the boat was not moving and that the captain abandoned the trawler. Another contradiction.
Someone on board had pleaded, "Please any solution."
Soufi wrote that at 6:55, six people had died and another 2 were very ill. The Greek coastguard did not mention any deaths until after the incident.
Then, at approximately 10:40 pm, a coastguard boat from Crete arrived and remained close until the trawler sank.
According to the company managing the Lucky Sailor, the Maltese-flagged tanker that brought supplies, “Those on board the boat caught the line and pulled."
A Greek coast guard spokesperson said late Friday that their vessel temporarily hooked a light line to the trawler at 11 pm. He claimed that none of the ships attempted to tow the boat. According to Commander Nikos Alexiou of Greek station Ant1 TV, passengers on board again denied aid and loosened the line before continuing the course.
However, according to Soufi in a voice memo, the passengers "never expressed the will to continue sailing to Italy” or refused assistance from Greek authorities. “They were in danger and needed help.”
According to Greek media, the commander of the coastguard vessel that arrived at the trawler less than three hours before it sank testified to investigative authorities that the passengers rejected any assistance.
The passengers did not reply to the captain's appeal for help on the first approach at 11:40 pm Tuesday, according to the captain.
He said the ship stopped moving after five minutes. His craft approached the ship and hooked a line to the bow, but some passengers answered in English, "No Help" and "Go Italy", according to the news website kathimerini.gr, which cites the captain's affidavit
Authorities say the boat kept moving until 1:40 am on Wednesday when the engine stopped.
Alarm Phone reports that minutes later was the final exchange with some on board. Before cutting off, the last words were, “Hello my friend … The ship you send is ..."
According to the Greek captain's leaked statement, he was told at 1:40 am that the trawler's engine had stopped again. When the coastguard approached within 70 meters to conduct an inspection, the ship capsized in less than a minute, causing yet another tragedy for people seeking a better life somewhere.