June 20th, 2024

Greek prosecutor recommends dismissing charges in migrant shipwreck case

By Derek Gatopoulos, The Associated Press on May 21, 2024.

KALAMATA, Greece (AP) – Greek prosecutors recommended dismissing charges against nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants last year and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations, as their trial was opening on Tuesday.

Speaking at the opening of a trial against the nine in the southern Greek city of Kalamata, public prosecutor Ekaterini Tsironi said that Greek jurisdiction cannot be established as the overcrowded trawler sank outside Greek territorial waters.

The defendants, most in their 20s, face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges over the sinking of the “Adriana” fishing trawler on June 14 last year off the southern coast of Greece.

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.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

KALAMATA, Greece (AP) – Nine Egyptian men went on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations.

Outside the courthouse, a small group of protesters clashed with riot police as the proceedings got underway. There were no reports of serious injuries but two people were detained.

The defendants, most in their 20s, face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges over the sinking of the “Adriana” fishing trawler on June 14 last year off the southern coast of Greece.

International human rights groups argue that their right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgment before an investigation is concluded into claims that the Greek coast guard may have botched the rescue attempt.

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 protesters could be heard inside the packed courtroom as presiding judge Eftichia Kontaratou read out the names of the nine defendants. Officers from the special police forces maintained order in the courtroom.

Defense lawyer Spyros Pantazis asked the court to declare itself incompetent to try the case, arguing that the sinking occurred outside Greek territorial waters. “The court should not be turned into an international punisher,” Pantazis told the panel of three judges.

Kontaratou questioned all nine defendants through an interpreter. The accused said their intention was to travel to Italy, not Greece, and several declared their innocence.

Kontaratou acknowledged that there “were no Greeks on board, it was not under a Greek flag and all the documents refer to the (vessel being) 47 nautical miles away.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if the judge’s remarks indicated she would dismiss the case.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres last year described the shipwreck as “horrific.”

The sinking renewed pressure on European governments to protect the lives of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the continent, as the number of people traveling illegally across the Mediterranean continues to rise every year.

Lawyers from Greek human rights groups are representing the nine Egyptians, who deny the smuggling charges.

“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, an associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

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

The European border protection agency 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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Follow all AP stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration,

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