Greek Coast Guard Defends Actions as Over 500 Migrants Feared Dead in Shipwreck

by Gabriel Martinez
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migrant shipwreck

The actions of the Greek coast guard have been defended amidst a tragic incident where over 500 migrants are presumed dead after a ship sank off the country’s southern coast. Criticism has been mounting over Europe’s ongoing failure to prevent such devastating tragedies.

For three consecutive days, patrol boats and a helicopter have been combing the area of the Mediterranean Sea where the overcrowded fishing vessel capsized early on Wednesday. The United Nations migration agency has stated that this could potentially be the second deadliest migrant shipwreck ever recorded. The deadliest incident occurred in April 2015 when a vessel capsized off the coast of Libya en route to Italy, resulting in an estimated 1,100 fatalities.

Nikos Alexiou, the spokesperson for the Greek coast guard, explained that both the coast guard and private ships had repeatedly offered assistance to the vessel via radio and loudspeaker while it was in international waters, en route from Libya to Italy. However, their offers were rejected.

Alexiou argued that attempting to tow the overcrowded trawler or transfer hundreds of unwilling individuals onto nearby ships would have posed significant dangers. He stated, “When you… try forcibly to tie up to it or to attach a mooring rope, you will have a disturbance, and the people will surge — which, unfortunately, is what happened in the end. You will have caused the accident.”

Furthermore, Alexiou mentioned that after accepting food from a merchant ship, the trawler’s passengers rejected a rope from a second merchant ship, suspecting that it was an attempt to transport them to Greece.

In response to the incident, the Greek authorities dispatched the tanker Lucky Sailor to provide food and water to the migrants. However, the managing company of the tanker reported that the people on board were hesitant to receive assistance and maneuvered away when approached.

Experts have emphasized that maritime law obligated Greek authorities to initiate a rescue operation, given the condition of the vessel. Professor Erik Røsæg from the University of Oslo’s Institute of Private Law stated that a refusal of assistance can be overruled if it is deemed unreasonable, as it appeared to be on Wednesday.

As of now, 104 survivors have been pulled from the water, and 78 bodies have been recovered. However, no additional individuals have been found since late Wednesday. The Greek coast guard has extended the search-and-rescue operation beyond the standard 72 hours.

The United Nations’ migration and refugee agencies have issued a joint statement underscoring the legal and humanitarian imperative of timely maritime search and rescues, urging urgent and decisive action to prevent further deaths at sea.

A group of non-governmental organizations, including Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders, has called on the European Union to establish state-led search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean instead of solely focusing on dismantling smuggling networks.

Greece, along with other southern EU nations that are often the initial destinations for asylum-seekers traveling by sea to Europe, has implemented stricter border protection measures in recent years, including extending walls and intensifying maritime patrols.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stated that this is a European problem and emphasized the need for Europe to define an effective migration policy in solidarity to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.

A judicial investigation is currently underway to determine the causes of the sinking. Greek officials have speculated that panic among the passengers may have led to the boat listing and rolling over, minutes after losing power.

Most of the survivors are being relocated from a storage hangar in the southern port of Kalamata, where relatives have gathered to search for their loved ones, to migrant shelters near Athens.

Abdo Sheikhi, a Kurdish Syrian residing in Germany, traveled to Kalamata to gather information about five family members who were on the boat. Unfortunately, he discovered that only his younger brother Ali and another relative had survived. Sheikhi recounted how Ali jumped off the ship while others could not due to fear, desperately holding on to the swaying vessel.

Nine individuals from Egypt were arrested and charged with people smuggling and participating in a criminal enterprise. Twenty-seven survivors remain hospitalized, according to health officials. The smuggling suspects are scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that the boat was carrying up to 750 people. The survivors consist of boys and men from Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, and the Palestinian territories. It remains unclear how many individuals are still missing, but it is believed to be in the hundreds.

Authorities at a state-run morgue near Athens have begun the process of identifying the victims by photographing their faces and collecting DNA samples.

Late on Friday, Greece’s coast guard announced that a navy helicopter had located a sailboat carrying migrants off southwestern Greece after being alerted by Italian authorities. Three merchant ships have reached the vessel, which reported no trouble and was heading for Italy. It is estimated that around 60 people are on board.

Contributors to this story include Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Renata Brito in Barcelona, Sarah El Deeb in Beirut, Lebanon, and Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Follow AP stories on global migration at https://bigbignews.net/migration

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about migrant shipwreck

What happened in the migrant shipwreck off the Greek coast?

The overcrowded fishing vessel capsized off the Greek coast, resulting in the presumed drowning of over 500 migrants. The incident has raised concerns and criticism over Europe’s failure to prevent such tragedies.

Did the Greek coast guard attempt to rescue the migrants?

Yes, the Greek coast guard defended its actions and stated that they repeatedly offered assistance to the vessel via radio and loudspeaker. However, their offers were rejected, and any attempt to tow or transfer the passengers was deemed too dangerous.

What are the reactions and demands following the shipwreck?

Criticism has mounted over Europe’s response, and there are calls for urgent and decisive action to prevent further deaths at sea. NGOs and organizations like Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders have urged the establishment of state-led search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

How many survivors have been found so far?

Rescuers have pulled 104 survivors from the water, while 78 bodies have been recovered. However, no additional individuals have been located since late Wednesday. The search-and-rescue operation is ongoing.

Are there any investigations into the incident?

Yes, a judicial investigation is currently underway to determine the causes of the shipwreck. Greek officials speculate that panic among the passengers may have contributed to the vessel capsizing.

What actions are being taken to identify the victims?

Officials at a state-run morgue near Athens have started the process of identifying the victims by photographing their faces and collecting DNA samples.

How is Europe addressing the migration crisis?

Europe, including Greece and other southern EU nations, has implemented stricter border protection measures in recent years. Efforts are being made to reach an agreement among member countries on sharing responsibility for migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean.

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