Anger is growing over his handling of a migrant boat disaster off Greece last week, which has become one of the biggest tragedies in the Mediterranean in years. The calamity is dominating the country’s political agenda a week before snap elections.
The Hellenic Coast Guard is facing growing questions over its response to the fishing vessel that sank off Greece’s southern peninsula on Wednesday, killing possibly hundreds of migrants. Nearly 80 people are known to have died in the sinking and hundreds are still missing, according to the United Nations migration and refugee agencies.
Critics say Greek authorities should have acted quicker to prevent the ship from capsizing. There are reports from survivors that the Coast Guard tied up the vessel and attempted to tow it, rocking the boat, which Greek authorities strongly deny.
The boat may have carried up to 750 passengers, including women and children, according to reports. Many of them were trapped under the bridge during the sinking, according to Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. « The vessel was very overcrowded, » Frontex said.
About 100 people are known to have survived the sinking. Authorities continued to search for victims and survivors over the weekend.
Disaster could be ‘worst tragedy ever’ in Mediterranean Sea, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said She said on Fridays. He said that since the beginning of the year there has been a massive increase in the number of migrant boats heading from Libya to Europe.
Frontex said in a declaration on Friday that no agency aircraft or vessels were present at the time of Wednesday’s capsize. The agency said it alerted Greek and Italian authorities of the ship after a Frontex aircraft spotted it, but Greek officials declined an offer of further help.
Greece has been at the forefront of Europe’s migration crisis since 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa traveled thousands of kilometers across the continent hoping to seek asylum.
Migration and border security have been key issues in the Greek political debate. After Wednesday’s wreck, they leapt to the top of the agenda, a week before national elections on June 25.
Greece is currently led by a caretaker government. Under the conservative New Democracy administration, in power until last month, the country has adopted a tough migration policy. In late May, the EU urged Greece to launch an investigation into alleged illegal expulsions.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is expected to return to the prime minister’s office after next Sunday’s vote, criticized the Greek authorities, saying it should instead target human traffickers, whom he called « human scum ».
“It’s very unfair to some so-called ‘supportive people’ [with refugees and migrants] insinuate that the [Coast Guard] it didn’t do its job. … These people are out there … fighting the waves to save lives and secure our borders,” Mitsotakis, who maintains a significant lead in the polls, said Saturday at an election event in Sparta.
The Greek authorities claimed the people on board, some believed to be the smugglers who had organized the boat from Libya, refused assistance and insisted on reaching Italy. So the Greek coastguard did not intervene, even though they monitored the vessel for more than 15 hours before it finally capsized.
« What orders did the authorities have and didn’t they intervene because one of these ‘scum’ didn’t give them permission? » the left-wing Syriza party said in a statement. “Why was the order not given to the lifeboat… to assist in a rescue operation immediately? … Why weren’t life jackets distributed … and why wasn’t Frontex assistance requested?”
Alarm Phone, a network of activists that helps migrants in danger, She said the Greek authorities had been alerted repeatedly many hours before the boat capsized and that the rescue capacity was insufficient.
According to a relationship by WDR citing the testimonies of migrants, attempts were made to tow the ship in distress, but in the meantime the boat began to rock and sank. Similar testimonials by the survivors appeared in the Greek media.
A relationship on the Greek website news247.gr it said the vessel remained in the same spot off the town of Pylos for at least 11 hours before sinking. According to the report, the position on the chart suggests the vessel was not on a « consistent course and speed » towards Italy, as the Greek coastguard said.
After initially saying there was no effort to tow the boat, the Hellenic Coast Guard said Friday that a patrol boat approached and used a « small buoy » to engage the vessel in a procedure that took several minutes and then it was untied by the migrants themselves.
Coast Guard spokesman Nikos Alexiou defended the agency. « It is not possible to make a violent detour on a ship like that with so many people on board, without their wanting to, without any kind of cooperation, » he said.
Alexei She said no video of the operation is available.
Nine people, mostly from Egypt, were arrested over the capsizing, on charges of setting up a criminal organization aimed at illegally smuggling migrants, causing a shipwreck and endangering their lives. They will appear before a magistrate on Monday, according to Greek judicial authorities.
“Unfortunately, we saw it coming because since the beginning of the year there has been a new modus operandi with these fishing vessels leaving from eastern Libya,” Johansson said of the EU. said a press conference on Friday. « And we’ve seen a 600 percent increase in those departures this year, » she added.
Greek Supreme Court Prosecutor Isidoros Dogiakos he urged absolute secrecy in the ongoing investigation in relation to the shipwreck.
Thousands of people took to the streets in several Greek cities last week to protest the handling of the incident and the migration policies of Greece and the EU. More protests were planned for Sunday.