Hellenic Coast Guard Defends Actions in Wake of Sea Disaster

Hellenic Coast Guard
Hellenic Coast Guard is continuing the search while defending its actions (Hellenic Coast Guard file photo)

Published Jun 16, 2023 6:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

Greece, which has been frequently criticized for its handling of the migrant crisis and its handling of the endless waves of small boats moving through its waters, is being forced to defend its actions as the third and final day of the search for survivors of the fishing boat that sank early on Wednesday is concluding. United Nations officials are saying that they believe this is the second deadliest incident they have recorded in nearly a decade of the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean with human rights groups saying they believe as many as 500 people are missing.

Greece on Friday highlighted that it has arrested nine of the survivors of the tragedy reporting that they believe they were the mastermind and smugglers who arranged for the overpacked fishing boat. A Hellenic Coast Guard spokesperson is telling the media that the individuals were arrested on Thursday night from among the 104 people rescued. They are claiming they arranged for the fishing boat in Egypt, took it to Tobruk, Libya where they loaded somewhere between 500 and 750 people, including as many as 100 children gathered together below deck, and set off for Italy. The Coast Guard says late Tuesday night it saw hundreds of people on deck.


Hellenic Coast Guard released this picture saying their last approach was about three hours before the vessel capsized


The Coast Guard is saying that it along with the Hellenic Navy has a total of 12 vessels scouring the area 47 nautical miles southwest of the island of Pylos along with three helicopters. However, no one has been recovered since Wednesday. Four people were taken to hospital while 100 were initially in a hangar in Kalamata but reports said they have now been moved to a center near Athens. The Hellenic Coast Guard is highlighting that none of the people recovered had life-saving equipment.

Critics are questioning the Coast Guard’s timeline and version of events with media reports citing survivors who blamed the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard says it offered assistance on several occasions on Tuesday but was repeatedly turned away. They however had to revise an earlier report now saying they did briefly put a line across to the fishing boat which they said was simply to steady themselves while they attempted to make contact. Some reports are inferring the line may have been the cause of the fishing boat rocking violently and then capsizing.

UN officials are focusing on the smugglers calling for justice and saying more has to be done to stop human trafficking. IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim issued a statement expressing the organization’s sadness highlighting “the sad fact that thousands of people undertake dangerous sea crossings in unsafe vessels.” He said the IMO will continue to work with others in the United Nations to address the complexities of the humanitarian issue and the unsafe transport of migrants by sea.

Greece’s Acting Prime Minister Ioannis Sarmas is promising a thorough investigation to determine what caused the boat to sink and the actions of the Coast Guard. Evangelos Tournas, acting minister of civil protection, defended the Hellenic Coast Guard insisting the vessel was in international waters meaning his country could not intervene with a vessel refusing assistance. Human rights groups however as saying they warned of the situation all day on Tuesday while others are saying Greece was obliged to act to stop a clear danger of the overloaded boat. 

Protestors in Greece are demanding the European Union do more, including changing its migrant policies to prevent more tragedies.