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
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.
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.”
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.
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.