Greek judge dismisses Greece shipwreck case amid questions of fairness

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Greek judge dismisses Greece shipwreck case amid questions of fairness

A Greek judge has dismissed a case for conviction against nine Egyptian men over the worst migrant shipwreck in the Mediterranean for over a decade, amid questions from human rights groups challenging the integrity of the trial.


Greek public prosecutor Ekaterini Tsironi has dismissed charges against nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants last year, telling the court Greece lacked jurisdiction.

Shortly after the trial opened in the southern city of Kalamata, Tsironi recommended that the charges be dismissed, saying that Greek jurisdiction could not be established because the overcrowded trawler sank outside Greek territorial waters.

Nine men were due to go on trial, accused of causing the worst migrant shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea for ten years. Human rights groups had also raised concerns over the fairness of the trial.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the men should not be used as a scapegoat before an investigation is concluded as to whether the Greek coast guard botched the rescue attempt.

The defendants, aged between 20 and 40, were facing up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges over the sinking of the “Adriana” fishing trawler on 14 June last year. All had categorically denied being involved in a smuggling operation.

More than 500 people are believed to have gone down with the fishing trawler, which had been traveling from Libya to Italy. Following the sinking, 104 people were rescued — mostly migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt — and 82 bodies were recovered. The incident was a blow to the EU’s border protection and asylum operations.

The Greek coast guard has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the disaster. Government officials insist the authorites were unable to take any earlier action because the trawler was in international waters at the time. 

Authorities also claim the boat was travelling for at least seven hours before the sinking happened but it did not attempt a rescue because the boat did not appear to be in danger.

A separate investigation into the conduct of the coast guard is currently underway.

Maritime officials have also had to fended off consistent accusations they delibrately failed to intervene for fear of bringing such a large number of migrants ashore.

But survivors and those representing them dispute this version of events. A report released in December by EU border agency Frontex, which spotted the boat first before the coast guard from the air, also alluded to deriliction of duty. Evidence collected by the agency says Greek authorites failed to reply to calls for assistance.

Survivors also argue the Hellenic authorities’ fatal attempt to tow the trawler actually caused the boat to sink.

“There’s a real risk that these nine survivors could be found ‘guilty’ on the basis of incomplete and questionable evidence given that the official investigation into the role of the Coast Guard has not yet been completed,” said Judith Sunderland, Associate Europe and Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “Credible and meaningful accountability for one of the worst shipwrecks in the Mediterranean needs to include a determination of any liabilities of Greek authorities.”

But, authorities say the defendants were identified by other survivors and the indictments are based on their testimonies.

Frontex says illegal border detections at EU frontiers increased for three consecutive years through 2023, reaching the highest level since the 2015-2016 migration crisis – driven largely by arrivals at the sea borders.

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