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Shipwreck off Pylos: Refugee communication with activists - New evidence

Featured Shipwreck off Pylos: Refugee communication with activists - New evidence

New evidence is coming to light about the circumstances of the deadly shipwreck off Pylos that apparently claimed the lives of hundreds of people trying to reach Europe.

In a Facebook post, activist Nawal Soufi, who was the first to contact the ship's passengers as reported by Alarm Phone, authorizes journalists to broadcast her testimony from the communication she had with the refugees in the critical hours before the shipwreck.

What she mentions gives a clearer picture of the situation of the hundreds of passengers who were afraid that they would not make it, while according to what Ms. Soufi says, they not only did not refuse help, as the port authorities say, but they asked for it at all costs.

As she describes the boat was left without a captain – as he had abandoned it – and its passengers could no longer head for Italy as they did not know how to get there. She even notes that if they had expressed to her the desire to continue to Italy without assistance, she would obviously have informed the Italian, Maltese and Greek authorities again about their request.

Still characteristic is the image it conveys to us, when a passing ship approached the fishing boat, tied it with two ropes and started throwing bottled water - apparently for help - with the refugees fearing that the movement of passengers to reach the water could overturn the overloaded vessel and moved slightly away in order to forestall the worst.

The testimony

“On June 13, 2023, in the early hours of the morning, migrants on a boat with 750 people contacted me and told me about their drama. After five days of travel, the water had run out, the boat captain had abandoned them on the open sea, and there were also six corpses on board. The migrants did not know exactly where they were, but thanks to the instant location of the Turaya phone, I was able to find out their exact location and notify the relevant authorities.

However, the situation became complicated when a boat approached the vessel, tied ropes to two parts of the boat and started throwing water bottles. The migrants felt great danger as they feared that the ropes could cause the boat to capsize and that skirmishes on the boat to get water could cause it to sink. For this reason, they moved slightly away from the ship to avoid a shipwreck.

During the night, the situation on the boat became even more dramatic: the migrants were confused and did not understand whether it was a rescue operation or a way to put their lives in even greater danger.

I stayed in touch with them until 11pm Greek time, trying to reassure them and help them find a solution. They kept asking me what they should do and I kept telling them that Greek help would come. In that last phone call, the man I was talking to told me, "I feel like this is going to be our last night alive."

When the migrants moved slightly away from the boat, there was no intention of continuing their journey to Italy, because they would not know how to navigate the Italian waters, as the actual captain of the boat was missing and they were constantly asking what to do. They definitely needed help where they were and if they had expressed to me their intention to continue their journey to Italy I would obviously have sent word to Malta, Greece and Italy, but the migrants never said that.

Is it ever possible that the escape of the migrants from the situation of danger they were in was interpreted by the Greek authorities as an escape from the rescue? These are questions I cannot answer, but I can confirm that these people have always asked to be rescued by any country.

This is the last accurate location sent by Turaya phone and shared in Malta, Greece and Italy

The vessel's position at 15.10 Greek time
Lat N 036 Deg 008’059.660″ Lon E 021 Deg 002’009.749″

Throughout the afternoon and until 11 p.m. I did nothing but reassure the people calling from the boat, explaining to them that the proper authorities had the boat's location for several hours and that help would surely arrive. All they had to do was to manage the panic situation prevailing on the ship.

Questions are mounting about whether the tragedy could have been avoided. In yesterday's announcement, the Alarm Phone that tracked the boat and informed the competent authorities gave the schedule of communication with the refugees, their requests for help and the information that the boat was sailing unruly.

The Alarm Phone schedule

On the morning of June 13, starting at 9:35 CEST, Twitter user Nawal Soufi (a.k.a. a Moroccan activist) alerted of a large vessel in distress, carrying, according to them, 750 people. Over the next few hours, Nawal Soufi adds further information, including the GPS location of the vessel in distress and that authorities in Italy, Greece and Malta have been notified.

14:17 CEST: Alarm Phone receives first call from vessel in distress. It is difficult to communicate with them. They say that they cannot survive the night, that they are in great distress. The Alarm Phone tries to get the current GPS coordinates so it can alert the authorities – but the call is dropped. We are trying to reconnect with them.

14:30 CEST: They call again, telling the Alarm Phone that they would send their location. However, they don't.

15:52 CEST: They called the emergency phone twice but it was impossible to understand them.

16:04 CEST: We're talking to them again. They say they would send their location by GPS.

16:13 CEST: We are receiving the position from the people in distress: N 36 15, 21 02. We are trying to gather further information, but we are unable to reconnect with them.

16:53 CEST: We are notifying the Greek authorities via email as well as other actors, including Frontex and UNHCR Greece.

17:13 CEST: We are restoring contact with people in danger. We hear "hello, hello", then the call drops. We are trying to reconnect, which is not possible.

17:14 CEST: We receive a call from the vessel in distress but cannot hear anything.

17:20 CEST: We talk to them and they report that the boat is not moving. They say: “The captain left in a boat. Any solution please.” They say they need food and water.

17:34 CEST: We receive another call from the vessel in distress and its updated position: 36 18, 21 04 – very close to previous position. They say that the boat is full and that the boat is moving from side to side.

18:00 CEST: We call the company of the merchant vessel "Lucky Sailor", informing them of the vessel in distress. They say they are only acting under the authority of the Greek Coast Guard.

Over the next few hours, the Alarm Phone tries to re-establish contact with them, but either the calls don't connect or it's impossible to understand each other.

20:05 CEST: Alarm Phone is informed that they have received water from the merchant vessel Lucky Sailor and that they have contacted the "police". The Alarm Phone also notices that a second merchant vessel, the "Faithful Warrior", is near them.

Over the next few hours, the Alarm Phone tries to reestablish contact with the distressed, but either the calls don't connect or it's impossible to understand each other.

00:46 CEST on 14/06/2023: Last contact with vessel in distress. All we hear is: “Hello my friend. …. The ship you are sending is…”. The call is disconnected.

As can be seen from the chronicle presented by Alarm Phone, the refugees were constantly trying to contact them, even saying that they needed food and water.

In a statement, however, the Operations Center of the Ministry of Shipping states that when the fishing vessel was asked by the commercial ship if it wanted additional assistance or if it was in danger or if it wanted something else from Greece. They replied "we want nothing more than to go on to Italy".

In fact, at another point, the Ministry of Shipping states that "it was sent to the fishing boat around 21:00 in order to provide additional food supplies and any other assistance. They only received the water, while the rest of the supplies were thrown into the sea."

According to the announcement of the Ministry of Shipping, the Coast Guard was informed "on the morning of 13/6 around 11:00 by the Rome Operations Center" while a few hours later at 13:50 a Coast Guard helicopter took off and located the fishing vessel at 15:35, i.e. some time before being notified by the Alarm Phone.

What the Operations Center of the Ministry of Shipping says

-Yesterday morning 13/6 around 11:00 the Rome Operations Center informed the Single Coordination Center for Search and Rescue of the Greek Coast Guard. that there is a fishing vessel with a large number of migrants (in international waters southwest of the Peloponnese) according to information received by the Italian authorities following a call from an NGO activist.

-The Coast Guard proceeded with the verification process. A Coast Guard helicopter took off at around 13:50 from Mytilini bound for the fishing boat.

-At 15:35 the fishing boat was spotted by the Coast Guard helicopter sailing with a steady course and speed having a sufficient number of people on its outer decks.

-Immediately after the detection by the helicopter, the ships sailing in the area were informed and they were asked to change their course and to inform the command center about the movements and the general condition of the fishing vessel.

-At the same time, a 40-meter Coast Guard ship  was ordered to sail from Chania, Crete, to the Ionian Sea and the area of the fishing vessel.

-The first contact with the fishing vessel after difficulty was achieved around 14:00.

- The fishing vessel did not request any assistance from the Coast Guard and Greece.

-Second take-off of the helicopter around 18:00, where again it was found that the boat is sailing with a constant course and speed.

- The command center was contacted by satellite phone at around 18:30. The satellite phone user on board the boat, who spoke English, replied that the boat was not in danger, they wanted no help other than food and water, and that they wished to continue on to Italy.

-The command center dispatched a Maltese-flagged vessel which approached the fishing vessel around 18:00, and after the fishing vessel stopped – as requested by the commercial vessel – supplied it with food and water.

-Repeatedly the fishing vessel was asked by the merchant ship if it wanted additional assistance or if it was in danger or if it wanted anything else from Greece. They replied "we want nothing more than to go on to Italy".

- Then a second boat was found, this time a Greek ship, which was sent to the fishing vessel around 21:00 in order to provide additional food supplies and any other assistance. They received only the water, while the other supplies were thrown into the sea.

-From 15:30 to 21:00 the operations room of the Ministry of Shipping had repeated communication with the fishing vessel via satellite phone. In all of them they consistently repeated that they wished to sail to Italy and did not want any assistance from Greece.

-At 22:40 the Coast Guard vessel from Crete sailed near the fishing boat. It remained at a distance and discreetly observed it, not finding any problem in its navigation, as it had a steady course and speed.

-This continued until 01:40 on June 14th. At the above time, the person on board the fishing vessel informed the Headquarters Operations Center that the vessel's engine had malfunctioned and stopped moving.

- The specific event was also confirmed by the Coast Guard nearby vessel.

-Immediately the Coast Guard boat tried to approach the fishing vessel to determine the problem

-At 02:04 am the Captain of the Coast Guard vessel informed the Operations Center that he saw the fishing vessel take a right then a sharp left bank and then another right bank so great that it resulted in the fishing vessel capsizing.

-Ten to fifteen minutes later the boat completely sank. A number of passengers on the outer decks fell into the sea.