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Greece Accused of Scant Investigation Into Fatal Migrant Boat Sinking

Migrant Boat Sinking Greece
Hundreds of migrants are believed to have drowned in Greece’s waters last June in a migrant boat sinking. Credit: Hellenic Coast Guard

On Thursday, Greece was accused of inadequately investigating the circumstances surrounding a migrant boat sinking that claimed the lives of hundreds six months ago.

The joint report by leading international human rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, asserts that there has been “little meaningful progress” in examining claims made by survivors that the rescue mission was both delayed and mishandled.

The vessel, named “Adriana,” a dilapidated fishing trawler, succumbed to the waves on June 14th southwest of the Greek mainland during its journey from Libya to Italy, with an estimated 750 people on board.

Of those aboard, 104 were rescued, predominantly migrants from Syria, Pakistan, and Egypt, while 82 bodies were recovered in the aftermath. The remaining passengers, including women and children, were locked in the hold at the time of the sinking, which occurred in one of the Mediterranean’s deepest areas, where depths reach around thirteen thousand feet, making any retrieval of the vessel or its occupants nearly impossible.

“Series of failures” by Greece led to migrant boat sinking

The report, based on interviews with twenty-one survivors, five relatives of missing individuals, and representatives from the Greek coast guard and police, contends that a series of failures, including overcrowding and an unseaworthy vessel, contributed to the tragic shipwreck.

It alleges that in the fifteen hours between receiving the first alert that the Adriana was in Greece’s search-and-rescue region and its capsizing, Greek authorities failed to mobilize appropriate resources for a rescue effort.

The authorities were clearly aware of indicators of distress, such as overcrowding and insufficient food and water on the Adriana. Survivors said the relevant authorities had also been informed about corpses on board and requests for rescue.

Judith Sunderland, an associate director at Human Rights Watch for Europe and Central Asia, said that “the Pylos shipwreck appears to be another tragic example of Greek authorities’ abdication of responsibility for saving lives at sea.”

“A full accounting of what happened is paramount to securing truth and justice for survivors and families of the victims and to help avoid future deaths,” she emphasized.

“The survivors and the families of the missing and dead deserve a full accounting of what happened,”she concluded.

Survivors contest official version of events

Several survivors have contested the official Greek account, refuting claims that assistance offers were declined by those on the trawler. Some survivors claim that a poorly executed attempt to tow the vessel to safety occurred shortly before it capsized and sank.

These allegations prompted an independent investigation initiated last month by Greece’s state ombudsman, which highlighted the coast guard’s failure to conduct an internal disciplinary inquiry into its response on June 14th. In September, forty survivors took legal action against Greek authorities.

Government officials in Athens have dismissed criticism of the coast guard as unjust, maintaining that blame rests squarely on smugglers who overload migrants onto unseaworthy vessels. The coast guard vehemently denies allegations made by survivors that it made a futile attempt to tow the vessel before it sank.

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