Greece is Preparing for a Trial Over “one of the Worst” Ship Accidents in the Mediterranean - Latest Global News

Greece is Preparing for a Trial Over “one of the Worst” Ship Accidents in the Mediterranean

Athens, Greece – Nine Egyptian men accused of criminal responsibility for the Pylos shipwreck, which resulted in the deaths of more than 550 people on June 14, 2023, will go on trial in Greece on Tuesday.

The defendants are accused of being members of a criminal organization that facilitated illegal entry into Greece and intentionally caused the shipwreck.

But they have all said they were neither smugglers nor responsible for the shipwreck, but were simply trying to get to Europe like the others on board.

Organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have described the process as rushed and inappropriate.

“The Pylos 9 defendants were wrongly arrested and charged with smuggling based on limited and questionable evidence,” Marion Bouchetel, a member of the Legal Center Lesvos, which is defending the defendants, told Al Jazeera.

The group called the trial an example of the “systematic criminalization of migrants in Greece.”

If convicted, the nine men face multiple life sentences.

The shipwreck

The fishing vessel Adriana, carrying up to 750 people, mainly from Egypt, Pakistan, Syria and Palestine, set sail from Libya on June 9, 2023.

Four days later, passengers began sending distress calls that the boat was no longer moving. The Greek Coast Guard reached Adriana late on the night of June 14 after being informed of the ship’s location by NGOs, the Italian Coast Guard and the European border agency Frontex.

In the first hours of June 15, the Adriana capsized.

Testimonies from survivors claim that the Greek coast guard attempted to tow the boat, causing it to overturn, and that they did not act sufficiently to save the lives of those in the water.

The Greek coast guard has rejected both allegations.

There were 104 survivors.

An undated handout photo from the Greek Coast Guard shows refugees crammed aboard a boat during a rescue operation before their boat capsized in the open sea off Greece on June 14, 2023 [File: Hellenic Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters]

“Based on the statements of the survivors, we argue that these nine people are at least not responsible for the sinking. “The coast guard is responsible for the sinking,” said Stefanos Levidis, one of the lead researchers in the shipwreck investigation who will testify as a defense expert.

Levidis’ group Forensis, which compared statements from 26 survivors with videos and photos of the ship, ship tracking and flight path data, satellite images, and the Coast Guard ship’s captain’s logs and statements, concluded that the Coast Guard was responsible for the sinking as it failed to properly mobilize other nearby vessels, towed the Adriana, retreated and caused waves, and then abandoned those who had been thrown overboard while the ship capsized alone at sea for at least 20 minutes.

A joint report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, based on statements from representatives of the Greek coast guard, Greek police and non-governmental organizations, also concluded that the coast guard did not respond properly to distress calls and that there were allegations about its role in the sinking a comprehensive investigation is justified.

An investigation by the Greek Naval Court into the role of the Greek Coast Guard in the shipwreck is ongoing. The defense was not granted access to the evidence collected.

The Greek Coast Guard has repeatedly said that those on board refused to help before the boat capsized and denied any responsibility for the sinking, saying it continued to carry out its life-saving duties.

Additionally, Levidis noted that there are questions about the evidence the Greek coast guard collected after the sinking.

“The evidence collection process by the authorities was at least flawed, if not rigged,” he said.

The Greek coast guard vessel PPLS920 did not transmit data on its movements that day.

The optical and thermal imaging cameras on board the ship did not record anything, “even though it is a state-of-the-art, brand new and very expensive ship,” Levidis said.

The survivors’ phones, confiscated after the sinking, were lost. They were later found, inexplicably, on another Greek Coast Guard ship on the Greek island of Kythira more than a month later, but ultimately not investigated.

The Coast Guard crew’s phones were confiscated two months after the incident, and there are several discrepancies in the PPLS920 bridge logs and the captain’s statement.

“There is a real risk that these nine survivors will be found guilty on the basis of incomplete and questionable evidence, as the official investigation into the Coast Guard’s role is ongoing,” said Judith Sunderland, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. “Credible and meaningful accountability for one of the worst shipping accidents in the Mediterranean must include establishing any liabilities of the Greek authorities.”

The case file

The charges are based largely on the statements of nine survivors.

According to defense attorneys, these witness statements appear to be “largely copied from each other.”

“These testimonies are not only broadly similar to one another, but were also recorded under questionable circumstances, with the survivors being held in a warehouse in Kalamata immediately after their rescue from the fatal shipwreck. All these elements raise serious concerns about their reliability and even authenticity,” said Bouchetel of the Lesvos Legal Center.

The Lesvos Legal Center argues that the investigation should also have included communications from the Greek Coast Guard boat, data from nearby aircraft and examination of the cellphones that the Coast Guard confiscated from the survivors.

The defense’s request to add further evidence to the case was rejected by the interrogator and the file was closed after six months.

“Although evidence mounted of Greece’s responsibility for this tragedy, blame was immediately placed on the survivors themselves,” Bouchetel said.

“This reversal of the situation is typical of the worrying pattern of criminalization in Greece: migrants are wrongly convicted of smuggling offenses, often on the basis of limited and questionable evidence, in order to cover up state crimes, violence and failure to be rescued by border authorities.”

Sharing Is Caring:

Leave a Comment