Friday, April 19, 2024
27 C
Brunei Town

Greek coast guard defends actions as more than 500 migrants feared dead

ATHENS, GREECE (AP) – The Greek coast guard on Friday defended its response to a ship that went down off the country’s south coast and left more than 500 migrants presumed drowned. Criticism mounted over Europe’s yearslong failure to prevent such tragedies.

Patrol boats and a helicopter spent a third day scouring the area of the Mediterranean Sea where the packed fishing vessel capsized early on Wednesday, in what the United Nations (UN) migration agency said could be the second deadliest migrant shipwreck recorded.

The deadliest occurred when a vessel capsized off the coast of Libya en route to Italy in April 2015, killing an estimated 1,100 people.

Greek coast guard spokesman Nikos Alexiou said that both coast guard and private ships repeatedly offered by radio and loudspeaker to help the vessel on Wednesday while it was in international waters, also heading from Libya to Italy, but they were rejected. Alexiou argued that any effort to tow the overcrowded trawler or move hundreds of unwilling people onto nearby ships would have been too dangerous. “You will have a disturbance, and the people will surge – which, unfortunately is what happened in the end,” Alexiou told state-run ERT TV.

“You will have caused the accident.”

Alexiou also said that, after accepting food from a merchant ship, the trawler’s passengers rejected a rope bringing more from a second merchant ship “because they thought the whole process was a way for us to take them to Greece.”

Greek authorities sent the first ship, the tanker Lucky Sailor, to give the migrants food and water. The company managing the tanker said on Friday that the people on board “were very hesitant to receive any assistance, and at any attempt of approach the boat started to maneuver away”.

Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Limited said in a statement that the people on the trawler were eventually persuaded to accept supplies.

Survivors of the latest tragic shipwreck prepare to board a bus to be transferred to Athens at the port of Kalamata, Greece. PHOTO: AP