Greek court questions smuggling suspects over migrant ship disaster

Nine men believed to have been part of the crew of the year’s biggest migrant smuggling ship which sank off the coast of Greece, leaving more than 500 missing, appeared in court for questioning on Tuesday, as new accounts have emerged of the sinking and appalling conditions on the journey from Libya to Italy.

The Egyptian suspects face charges of participating in a criminal organization, manslaughter and shipwreck. A court in the city of Kalamata, in southern Greece, ordered their detention after interrogating them for hours.

Only 104 men and young people – Egyptians, Pakistanis, Syrians and Palestinians – survived the sinking in the Mediterranean Sea at the beginning of June 14. Eighty-two bodies have been found, as an extensive search continued for a seventh day on Tuesday.

New survivor accounts emerged on Tuesday confirming that around 750 people paid thousands of dollars each for a place on the battered blue fishing trawler, seeking a better life in Europe.

In sworn testimony provided over the weekend and seen by The Associated Press, survivors described shocking conditions during the five-day trip. Most passengers were denied food and water, and those who could not bribe the crew out of the hold were beaten if they attempted to reach deck level.

The testimony also echoes earlier accounts that the steel-hulled trawler sank in calm seas during a failed attempt to tow it. This goes against the Greek Coastguard’s insistence that neither its patrol boat which escorted the trawler in its final hours nor any other vessel attached a towline.

Survivors detail the moments before the disaster

“The Greek ship threw down a rope and it was tied to our bow,” survivor Abdul Rahman Alhaz said in his sworn testimony. “Then we moved on, but no more than two minutes. We shouted ‘stop, stop!’ because our boat heels. [It] was in poor condition and overloaded, and should not have been towed.”

Alhaz, a 24-year-old Palestinian from Syria, said he paid US$4,000 to board the ship in Tobruk, eastern Libya. He said the “managers” of the trawler were all Egyptians, and he recognized seven suspects in photos shown to him by Greek authorities.

“Most of the Pakistanis were in the hold and were lost with the boat,” he said. “A crew member told me there were over 400 Pakistanis on the boat, and only 11 were rescued.”

WATCH | Egyptians charged in the sinking of a ship:

11 Egyptians accused of sinking migrant ship

All 11 suspects arrested in the capsizing have appeared in court in Greece. Pakistan observed a day of mourning with hundreds of its citizens fearing drowning.

Greece has been widely criticized for not trying to save the migrants before they sank in international waters. Officials in Athens say the passengers refused help and insisted on traveling to Italy, adding it would have been too dangerous to try to evacuate hundreds of reluctant people from an overcrowded ship.

Full details of the sinking remain unclear. Photos and videos from before the sinking show people crammed into every available open space on the trawler.

One survivor, Ali Sheikhi, from the northeastern Syrian town of Kobani, told Kurdish news channel Rudaw that smugglers were not allowing life jackets and throwing food into the sea. passengers.

Speaking on Sunday evening by phone from a closed reception center near Athens where survivors were taken, Sheikhi said he was directed to the hold but paid the smugglers to come out on the bridge.

A young woman in a Red Cross jacket provides first aid to a dark haired young man who survived a shipwreck near Athens, Greece.
A Greek Red Cross volunteer donates clothes to a survivor of last week’s shipwreck in Kalamata, Greece on Thursday. Only 104 men and young survived the sinking in the Mediterranean Sea on June 14, while 82 bodies were recovered. (Thanasis Stavrakis/Associated Press)

By the time the ship sank, they had been at sea for five days. The water ran out after a day and a half, and he said some passengers had resorted to drinking seawater.

Sheikhi also said the trawler sank after its engine failed and another vessel attempted to tow it. “In the draw, [the trawler] sank,” he said.

EU pledges support

Asked about the tragedy as World Refugee Day was celebrated around the world on Tuesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “It’s horrible, what happened, and the more urgent is that we act.”

Von der Leyen, the chief executive of the European Union, said the EU should help African countries like Tunisia – where many migrants leave for Europe – to stabilize their economies, as well as to finalize a long-awaited reform of the 27-nation bloc. asylum rules.

She did not mention Libya, however, from where the doomed trawler and many similarly overloaded Europe-bound boats depart through the particularly dangerous Mediterranean migration route.

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