It is perhaps the most photographed shipwreck in the world. Lying upright on a sandy beach on the northwestern coast of Zakynthos since October of 1980, the wreck of the “Panagiotis” is visited by millions of tourists.
Despite the worry that the wreck would be a blot on the otherwise pristine beach, picturesque “Shipwreck Beach” has become the very symbol of Zakynthos.
It has been rumoured that the ship was smuggling contraband, including cigarettes and alcohol, when it ran aground, on what was originally known as “Agios Georgios Beach,” during stormy weather and low visibility.
The ship was immediately abandoned by its crew, and some of them, mostly Greek sailors, were arrested, along with their captain. However, they were all later cleared of the smuggling charges.
Rumour still has it, however, that locals stripped the cargo of contraband cigarettes and alcohol. It is said that the island did not import cigarettes for months after the accident.
Initially the people of Zakynthos were concerned that the wreck could damage the image of the island and deter tourism. How ironic it is then, that “Navagio Beach” or “Shipwreck Beach,” has become far and away the most popular tourist destination in Zakynthos.
Recently, the captain of the ship, Kefalonia-born Charalambos Kompothekras–Kotsoros, released his account of what actually happened. He insists that there was no illegal activity whatsoever aboard the vessel.
According to his recollection, the ship ran aground while returning to Greece from Albania during the evening hours of October 2, 1980, due to the poor weather conditions and mechanical failure.
“I reported the accident to the authorities, but due to the fact that the beach was not accessible on foot by land, we were not able to protect the ship from thieves and other dangers. As a result, part of the shipment was stolen, along with various vessel equipment (radar, VHF radio, etc),” the captain relates.
“I went back to the authorities to report that my property was stolen and the General Prosecutor of the area, in my presence, organized a formal on-site investigation with the local police,” he says.
“The outcome was outstanding, as during the first days of the operation, all the stolen items, as well as the stolen part of the shipment, were found in local villages nearby, and 29 persons in total were persecuted and jailed during the following months after the trials were completed,” Kompothekras–Kotsoros explains.
After being cleared from all accusations by the court, the authorities requested the captain of the Panagiotis to remove the vessel by his own means. When he visited the site to see how he could execute the salvaging of the ship, he was so astonished by the beauty of the rusting carcass that he decided to leave it just as is.
Thus was born “Navagio Beach,” or “Shipwreck Beach,” to serve as a source of endless fascination to all those who visit Zakynthos.