Greek coast guard denies responsibility in Pylos boat disaster

Greek coast guard denies responsibility in Pylos boat disaster
3 min read
17 June, 2023
Survivors and activist groups have accused Greek authorities of complicity in Wednesday's avoidable disaster.

Greek authorities have hit back over accusations that the Hellenic coast guards were at fault during the tragic sinking of a vessel carrying hundreds of Syrian, Palestinian and Egyptian passengers across the Mediterranean on Wednesday. 

Reports have surfaced that the overcrowded fishing boat, carrying up to 100 children in the hold, may have capsized because a rope attached by the coast guard caused the unseaworthy vessel to rock uncontrollably. 

A government spokesperson responding to the allegations told Greek television that the coast guard had “used a rope to steady themselves, to approach, to see if they wanted any help”, but insisted there was no attempt to tow the boat back to Libyan waters.

The ship had been at sea for several days after setting off from Tobruk in Libya before it capsized in calm waters on Wednesday 50 miles from the coast of Pylos. 

A coast guard vessel had been escorting the boat for hours before the tragedy occurred, it also emerged on Friday - leading to further accusations that the Greek authorities had a hand in the tragedy. 

According to emergency support group Alarm Phone, the coast guard - as well as Frontex and other Greek authorities - were informed of distress calls from the boat several hours before the boat sank. 

Legal experts have claimed that such distress calls should have forced the coast guard to instigate a rescue operation from the heavily overcrowded boat. 

“As soon as the distress call was received via Alarm Phone, there was clearly distress,” law professor Nora Markard told Greek news outlet Solomon

“But when a ship is so evidently overloaded, it is in distress as soon as it leaves port because it is unseaworthy. Even if the ship is still moving. And when there is distress, there is a duty to rescue, not to stand by and watch.”

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The Hellenic coast guard was contacted by the New Arab over the allegations but did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Families are desperately searching for loved ones after the boat carrying hundreds of refugees sank off the coast of a Greek island on Wednesday morning, with as many as 560 passengers still missing.

The boat was carrying around 750 passengers with 104 rescued and 78 confirmed dead.

Rescue services are still looking for the missing passengers where the vessel went down, although hopes for survivors are dwindling.

Thousands of Greek activists and residents of Athens took to the streets on Wednesday and Thursday to protest against the role of the Hellenic coast guard in the tragedy. 

“The Greek authorities are doing Europe’s dirty work - carrying out routine pushbacks which endanger lives,” an activist speaking on condition of anonymity told The New Arab

“Why do you think passengers on board refused assistance? Because they don’t believe that the Greek coast guard is interested in their safety. They know they will try and stop the boats at almost any cost.”