The Greek Coast Guard says that efforts by its own ships and merchant vessels sailing nearby to assist the boat were repeatedly rebuffed, with people on board insisting they wanted to continue to Italy.
“They categorically refused any help,” a spokesman said. He added that a forceful intervention by the Greek vessels in the area could have caused the sinking of the migrant boat, which was full of people, much earlier.
Questions raised over Coast Guard in Greece
Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the SYRIZA party implied that the Coast Guard should have done more.
“A ship that travels overloaded with people is not doomed to sink?”, he asked the responsible minister of the caretaker government on Thursday. “I don’t accept this is common sense,” Tsipras stressed.
In a Facebook post, activist Nawal Soufi, who was the first to contact the ship’s passengers, claimed in a Facebook post that the migrants not only did not refuse help, but they asked for it at all costs.
She said that the captain of the migrant boat had abandoned ship and the passengers could no longer head for Italy as they did not know how to get there.
“I stayed in touch with them until 11pm Greek time, trying to reassure them and help them find a solution. They kept asking me what they should do and I kept telling them that Greek help would come. In that last phone call, the man I was talking to told me, ‘I feel like this is going to be our last night alive,” the activist said.
Niko Spanos, a retired officer of the Greek Coast Guard, said that Greece should have intervened before the boat sank. “The boat was not sea-worthy, the captain had fled and therefore Greece should have intervened.”
The migrant ship was 47 nautical miles southwest of Pylos in southern Peloponnese when it sank. It was in international waters, but under the jurisdiction of Greece at the search and rescue level.
The Coast Guard should have sent all available vessels to transfer the migrants, Spanos said. “When you see people drowning you don’t sit back because they refused help.”
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Greek Coast Guard refutes allegations
The spokesperson of the Coast Guard, Captain Nikolaos Alexiou, rejected accusations of negligence saying that an operation to force the migrant boat to change its course towards the safety of a Greek port could have resulted in its sinking much earlier.
He said that after the migrant boat was spotted by both the Coast Guard helicopters and a Frontex plane, the Greek Coast Guard ordered ships sailing by to approach it.
The passengers received supplies from the first ship that arrived but refused supplies from the second that approach them.
“We were on the spot. We also tried to negotiate with them by phone and try to help them, but they flatly refused and said that they want to stay on the boat and go to Italy. That’s what they said to our vessel as well.”
“Any action we would have taken against their will, with 100-200 people on the outer deck, would probably have caused the ship to sink.
“You can’t forcibly divert a ship. We are talking about people, not cargo,” the Greek Coast Guard official added.
Officers were praised for their rescue efforts which saved at least 104 people from the wreckage.
Greece has launched two inquiries into the deadly migrant shipwreck.
Supreme Court Prosecutor Isidoros Dogiakos on Thursday appointed a Supreme Criminal Court deputy prosecutor to supervise the investigation, while the Kalamata Coast Guard announced the launch of its own inquiry into the sinking of the boat.
“There is not a specific number of arrests of persons suspected of being the traffickers of the irregular migrants on board the fatal fishing boat,” the Coast Guard said in a statement on Thursday.