Greece Coast Guard Criticized for Handling of Migrant Boat Tragedy

news 17-Jun-2023 Europe

An overcrowded migrant boat heading for Europe sank after the crew rejected help, resulting in many deaths. Who is responsible? This has become a campaign issue in Greece before their upcoming parliamentary elections.

Vincent Cochetel, UN Special Envoy for the Mediterranean, is someone who clearly does not hesitate to speak out. He is known for his clear statements. Even now, after the boat tragedy off Greece, he is speaking up: The Greek Coast Guard should have acted, he says.

Photos clearly showed that the boat was overcrowded and not seaworthy, posing a risk to the passengers. "Whatever the people on the boat may have said or perhaps not said to the Coast Guard or the freighters in the area, this boat should not have been allowed to continue," said Cochetel.

Migrants Rejected Help

Both the Greek Coast Guard and the crew of a freighter have stated that Greek assistance was offered to the migrants on the boat several times, but repeated rejected. They want to continue to Italy and not to Greece.

Human rights activists often criticize the overcrowded camps in Greece. The people there have little prospect or a realistic chance of being able to move on to central or northern Europe.

Intervening against the will of the passengers would have posed a risk of sinking the boat itself, said Nikos Alexiou, spokesman for the Greek Coast Guard.

According to the current findings, the fishing boat started in Egypt, collected more people in Libya, and then set sail for Italy with an estimated 500 to 700 people on board. This direct route across the central Mediterranean is one of the most dangerous migration routes to Europe. However, more and more people are currently bypassing Greece.

Responsibility and Conflicting Reports

Both the Greek Coast Guard and the border agency Frontex knew about the boat before it capsized - that is certain.

Only exactly what happened that night when the overloaded fishing boat sank about 50 nautical miles southwest of the Peloponnese peninsula in international waters is still unclear. There are many rumors and many different interpretations as to who bears responsibility for the tragedy that reportedly killed hundreds.

Coast Guard Says Mechanical Failure was Cause

According to one unconfirmed report, which Greek newspapers and television stations are reporting, the crew of a Coast Guard ship threw a blue rope to the fishing boat - apparently with the intention of towing it. This action is said to have capsized the boat.

The Coast Guard strongly denies these allegations: "There was no attempt to tow the boat - neither by us nor by any other ship," said a spokesperson for the Greek Coast Guard. According to him, a rope was only thrown to the boat for a few minutes to stabilize it and to see if the migrants needed help. However, they threw the rope into the water and continued their journey.

At some point, the boat stopped moving, and the migrants on board spoke of a mechanical failure, according to the Coast Guard's version of events. Shortly afterward, the boat capsized and sank within a few minutes.

Boat Tragedy and Greek Elections

In Greece, the tragedy has become a campaign issue ahead of the parliamentary elections on June 25th. The conservative New Democracy of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is currently leading.

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the largest left-wing opposition party Syriza, visited Kalamata, the place where the survivors were brought initially. For him, the Coast Guard shares the blame for the tragedy and should have intervened earlier.

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