A Greek administrative watchdog has launched an investigation in the Pylos shipwreck that likely killed hundreds of people off the Greek coast in mid-June.
The probe, announced Thursday (9 November), comes after the Hellenic coast guard refused to launch an internal investigation five months after a tragedy, which saw the vast majority on the boat, possibly carrying up to 750 people, disappear into the depths of the sea, inside the Greek search-and-rescue zone.
“Following the explicit refusal to initiate an internal disciplinary investigation by the Coast Guard, the Independent Authority decided to initiate its own investigation,” said the Greek ombudsman, in a press statement.
Dunja Mijatovic, the commissioner for human rights at the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, had also faulted the Hellenic coast guard for not launching an investigation. She also demanded greater transparency.
“The initiative taken today by the Greek Ombudsman institution is a very important contribution to this effort,” she said in a statement.
In Greece, it is up to the naval court of the Hellenic coast guard to carry out such probes, while the country’s national prosecutor can only investigate any possible smuggling links to the sinking of the dangerously overcrowded Adriana trawler.
It also comes after Ylva Johansson, the EU’s migration commissioner, announced in the wake of the tragedy that more needs to be done to coordinate search and rescues at the European level.
And the European Commission has for months leaned on a search-and-rescue contact group, which it set up, as evidence that Brussels is on top of the issue.
The contact group has held three meetings so far this year. The latest, which took place last month, discussed the terms of reference for a European Maritime Safety Agency study.
Meanwhile, the Hellenic coast guard has denied any wrongdoing.
It claims that the Adriana sank due to the crowds on the deck moving to one side. But others say the Adriana sank after a botched attempt by the Hellenic coast guard to tow it towards Italy.
State-of-the-art cameras posted on the (90-percent EU-funded) Hellenic coast vessel in question had also been switched off — posing additional tricky questions into sinking.
A multi-pronged international media investigation revealed further discrepancies and missed opportunities for rescue by the coast guard.
Solomon, in collaboration with Forensis, the German public broadcaster ARD, and the Guardian, found that the vessel was obliged to the keep the cameras rolling.
They had also interviewed survivors, which said masked men had in fact boarded the stricken ship, tied a blue rope to the stern and then towed it.
They say that when the Adriana capsized, the Hellenic coast guard sped away, causing waves that may have led to further drownings of those tossed into the sea from the open deck.
And they also report it took another 30 minutes after the Adriana had sunk before the Hellenic coast guard initiated any rescues.
Among those rescued are 40 survivors who have since filed a criminal complaint at the naval court of Piraeus.
They say Greek authorities failed to immediately intervene to save the Adriana. And they too accused the Hellenic coast guard vessel with capsizing the ship after tying a rope to the overcrowded trawler.