European Parliament Calls for Investigation Into Migrant Boat Sinking

Migrant boat off Greece
Courtesy Hellenic Coast Guard

Published Jul 6, 2023 11:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

The European Parliament's home affairs committee has called for an independent international investigation into the sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Greece last month. The disaster claimed as many as 600 lives, but EU border agency Frontex lacks the authority to conduct a full investigation, leaving a Greek inquiry as the only line of effort. 

Several factors have prompted skepticism among human rights advocates about the nature of Greece's own investigation. Many survivors of the incident have accused the Hellenic Coast Guard of complicity in the boat's capsizing, alleging that a coast guard response vessel tried to tow the migrant vessel in the moments before it flipped. The Hellenic Coast Guard denies this version of events, and a Greek prosecutor has called for "absolute secrecy" during the inquiry - the opposite of the "transparent" investigation sought by rights advocates. 

Advocates are also skeptical because of precedent: in a previous case involving a migrant casualty in the Aegean, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Greek authorities had not carried out a thorough and effective investigation of the incident. 

"[It would be] “naive to say ‘but, you know, the Greek authorities are going to take care of this and we can trust them,'" said Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, according to AFP. 

The home affairs committee called for the European Commission to set up an inquiry into the emergency response effort, including the actions of EU border agency Frontex and the Hellenic Coast Guard.

The EU Fundamental Rights Agency joined this call and recommended that independent investigations into migrant boat casualties should be a matter of EU policy. "A prompt, effective and independent investigation of shipwreck incidents creates transparency about the way they were handled. It also helps identify whether the acts or omissions by the authorities incur legal responsibility by not respecting and protecting the right to life," wrote the FRA in a report released Wednesday.

More than a few advocates - including Takis Zotos, lawyer for four families of victims of the sinking - have drawn a comparison between the response to the implosion of the sub Titan and the June 14 migrant boat sinking. The first claimed five lives and prompted a four-nation, multi-million-dollar response and investigation effort, including an ROV search for the recovery of human remains and evidence; the second incident claimed about 100 times as many lives and prompted a local investigation, with no ROV survey planned.