Kathimerini Greece Newsroom
By Yiannis Souliotis
Greek port authority officials told Kathimerini that an attempt was made to moor the overcrowded fishing vessel several hours before it sank on Wednesday night off the southern coast of Greece in one of Europe’s worst migrant disasters, killing dozens and with hundreds still missing.
Meanwhile, nine suspected people traffickers were arrested by the authorities as investigations continued on Thursday into the circumstances, causes and those responsible for the wreck some 75 kilometers off Greece’s southwest coast. The suspects reportedly include eight persons of Egyptian origin.
According to an official, a coast guard vessel illuminated the boat with searchlights and informed the passengers by loudspeaker that due to the fact the vessel was overweight they were in danger and that they would not be able to reach the Italian coast.
'If any violent intervention was made on a fishing boat packed to the gills with people, we could have caused the maritime accident... there was a risk that we would cause the sinking'
The official said that the coast guard even used a rope to tie up the fishing vessel but that some of the passengers objected to the prospect of being taken to Greece instead of Italy, and allegedly untied the rope in order to continue their journey north.
“This particular incident unfolded at 11 p.m., several hours before the sinking of the vessel,” the official clarified.
The fishing vessel appears to have left Egypt, stopped in Libya and continued on toward Italy.
Survivors have reportedly said that close to 100 children were on board and that the vessel was carrying between 400 and 600 people. The numbers of confirmed survivors and dead remain unchanged: 104 and 78 respectively.
“There were not just 182 people; there were definitely three times as many,” the mayor of Kalamata told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Thursday.
In an interview with private broadcaster Skai, Hellenic Coast Guard spokesperson Nikos Alexiou fended off criticism about its decision not to intervene after the coast guard vessel had approached the overcrowded fishing boat and had seen that hundreds of people were crammed on to its decks.
“If any violent intervention was made on a fishing boat packed to the gills with people, we could have caused the maritime accident. If there was an intervention, there was a risk that we would cause the sinking,” Alexiou said.
He denied that the coast guard was a mere observer of the fishing vessel.