What happened at Agios Georgios?
Four people are dead following a rescue in which the Greek Coastguard appears to have set adrift a sinking boat carrying more than 100 people. We must ask what actually happened on 18-19 June 2022 at Agios Georgios.
The Greek Coastguard reports that it rescued 108 people – 63 men, 24 women and 21 children – early this morning. At least four, possibly eight, people are missing, presumed drowned.
The Coastguard took those who survived to Mykonos, the largest port near where their vessel got into trouble.
There are several very serious questions to be asked about the incident, however.
To get it out of the way swiftly, we will note that Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis, as he always does, sought immediately to blame the Turkish government for the incident having happened at all, even going so far as to ‘@’ the Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in a message about four people dying in the sea.
‘8 migrants missing & 104 rescued in Cyclades from a sailing boat that left Turkish shores for Europe. Turkey can do a better job, working with & to protect human lives & eradicate smuggling networks, in line with international law and the 2016 EU-Turkey statement @suleymansoylu’
(he continued throughout today to refer to the people as ‘migrants’. Even when they die, he cannot bring himself to call them people).
We feel we should note – as we seem to have to every time Mitarachis speaks – that what he has said here is rather misleading.
First of all because as we have noted time and again, the Turkish Coastguard in fact stops more people than arrive in Greece every year.
Though it is absolutely illegal to do so, the country’s Coastguard – under the demands of the EU-Turkey Deal – stopped 42.5 per cent of people who tried to cross the Aegean Sea in 2017. In 2018, it stopped 45 per cent. In 2019, 50.3 per cent. In 2020, 68.2 per cent. Last year, it stopped 87.7 per cent.
Even if we were to factor in the enormous number of pushbacks the Greek government carries out each year the Turkish coastguard would still have (illegally) prevented 51.9 per cent of people from crossing in 2020 and 54.4 per cent in 2021.
This year, the Coastguard prevented 89.7 percent of people who have attempted the journey from reaching Greece.
The Turkish Coastguard has stopped 168,289 of the 299,454 people who have attempted to reach Greece since 1 January 2017. 56.2 per cent. (See A note on numbers, below)
Secondly because this boat was travelling, it seems, to Italy.
As we have noted previously, this journey is far longer – and therefore far riskier – than that to the Aegean Islands, and is undertaken solely because the Greek government has worked to close all the shorter, safer routes to the Eastern Aegean Islands, and with its barbaric and brutal illegal pushbacks policy, has forced people to take the far more dangerous route to Italy.
That is, while it may be convenient for Mitarachis to claim deaths in the Mediterranean are the fault of the Turkish government and coastguard, it is statistically wildly incorrect.
The reality is that these deaths, like those of 61 people who drowned making the same attempt during Christmas week 2021 are the fault of the Greek government, specifically, as Migration Minister in charge of the Greek response, of Notis Mitarachis.
But the concerns run deeper than yet another misleading and insensitive Tweet from Nea Dimokratia’s barbarian-in-chief.
Because Alarmphone Tweeted a message about the boat at 23.59, by which point it had already informed the Greek Coastguard and received assurances from the latter that it had sent a vessel to investigate.
Yet the people who had been ‘rescued’ were not anywhere near Mykonos until 5.25am (they had not actually arrived, even then).
And their location data, shared with us, along with other images and video, by Aegean Boat Report, very clearly shows that they were in trouble off the island of Rineia, but spent at least some time on the island of Agios Georgios, between Rineia and Mykonos, in the early hours of the morning.
And it is at this stage that things get a great deal more concerning.
Because in a series of videos – many quite distressing – it is clear that these men, women and children are on Agios Georgios, while a Greek Coastguard vessel, with blue lights flashing, sits some yards away, off the coast. In one such video, several people appear to be shouting and crying about what appears to be a person in the water.
A photo taken at the small island in the morning of Sunday 19 June 2022 (the picture at the start of this piece) shows what looks like the sailboat the people had been aboard, smashed to pieces on the rocks on the island’s coast.
And the Greek Coastguard’s comment about the incident does not seem entirely reassuring.
‘Immediately the EKSED / LS-EL.AKT. mobilised three patrol boats of LS-EL.AKT., adjacent ships, while at the same time a tugboat sailed from Mykonos.
‘Initially, the tug boat moored the sailboat, and then due to adverse weather conditions and the fact that the sailboat was flooded, it was decided to be taken to the islet of Agios Georgios, west of the port of Mykonos, to transport foreigners by passenger.
‘Finally, in the early morning hours, the 108 foreigners were safely transported to Mykonos, while the searches by boat and air, as well as by private boats to locate the other four missing persons, continue and are in full swing. Strong winds of 6-7 Beaufort prevail in the area.’
The problem with this statement is that – particularly combined with the video footage taken by the men, women and children who had been on the boat – it leaves open the very real possibility, maybe even the strong likelihood, that the sailboat was taken by tug to an island with no port, where it was smashed on the rocks.
In this scenario, the people on board the boat were left to fend for themselves, having to make their own way to shore, while the coastguard boat – as already noted, and as the videos clearly show – sits several yards away in the water.
The thing is, four people drowned. Three of them were aged three, eight and 15.
And in one video in particular (the video below: we must warn you that this does contain some scenes people may find distressing) it seems very much as though the men, women and children who have reached the island are screaming in distress over what appears to be a person in the water.
We do not say that what happened was certainly that the Greek Coastguard set more than 100 people towards an island on a flooded boat and sat offshore while four of them drowned.
But there is no suggestion that the deaths happened before the arrival of the Greek Coastguard.
And the video and photographic evidence – as well as the slightly odd description of taking the boat and its passengers to Agios Georgios – do seem to strongly suggest that these people were forced into the sea, and some of them drowned, while those lucky enough to stay alive were made to wait on an island, scared, grieving and crying, while a Coastguard boat sat nearby.
It is perfectly possible that there is an innocent explanation.
But four people are dead.
We must request that the Greek Coastguard explain to the public how that happened, and what, precisely, went on at Agios Georgios.
A note on numbers
Though it is absolutely illegal to do so, the Turkish Coastguard – under the demands of the EU-Turkey Deal – stopped 21,937 of the 51,645 people who tried to cross the Aegean Sea, some 42.5 per cent, in 2017. In 2018, it stopped 26,679 of the 59,173 who set out: 45 per cent.
In 2019, the Turkish Coastguard stopped 60,366 of the 120,092 people who tried to reach Greece: 50.3 per cent. In 2020, it stopped 19,511 of the 23,616 people who set out: 68.2 per cent. And last year, it stopped 22,657 out of 25,824 people, or 87.7 per cent.
Even if we were to factor in the enormous number of pushbacks the Greek government carries out each year (9,741 in 2020; 15,803 in 2021) the Turkish coastguard would still have (illegally) prevented 51.9 per cent of people from crossing in 2020 and 54.4 per cent of those in 2021.
This year, the Coastguard has stopped 17,139 people from crossing, compared to just 1,965 registered as new arrivals (from 1 January to 16 June 2022). The coastguard has stopped 89.7 percent of people who have attempted the journey, from reaching Greece.
Even including the (at least) 7,102 men, women and children the Greek government pushed back from the Aegean Islands – people the Greek government insists do not exist – the Coastguard would have prevented 65.4 per cent of the 26,206 people who attempted to reach the Islands from doing so.