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Timeline: How the refugee boat tragedy unfolded off Greece | Migration News

Greek authorities have been accused of failing to rescue hundreds of refugees from a boat that sank near the coastal town of Pylos, causing one of the biggest tragedies in the Mediterranean.

Reports said as many as 750 people were on board the fishing boat that capsized in deep water about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the southern Peloponnese early Wednesday.

At least 79 bodies were recovered and 104 people were rescued. Hundreds of people are still missing.

The Greek coastguard was alerted to the ship around 10:00 am (08:00 GMT) on Tuesday. It capsized later that night.

Exactly what happened during this time is unclear.

Alarm Phone, a self-organized hotline for refugees in distress in the Mediterranean, said the ship had reported trouble, but Greek authorities said it had repeatedly refused to help.

Here’s a timeline of Tuesday’s events, according to a statement released by Alarm Phone and Greek authorities:

9:53 am (07:53 GMT): Activist Nawal Soufi, who lives in Italy, alerted 911 that a large boat carrying 750 people was in distress. Over the next few hours, Soufi will send more information, including the GPS location of the vessel. Authorities in Italy, Greece and Malta were alerted, she said. The Greek Coast Guard said they were notified of the boat’s presence late on Tuesday morning.

2:17pm (12:17GMT): The emergency call received the first call from the ship. Its passengers said they were stranded and “couldn’t make it through the night”. Call dropped before confirming GPS coordinates.

4:13pm (14:13GMT): After several failed attempts to communicate with the ship, the Alarm Phone received the coordinates.

4:53pm (14:53GMT): The group alerted Greek authorities via email, as well as other actors, including the EU border agency, Frontex and the UNHCR in Greece.

5:20pm (15:20GMT): Passengers called 911 to say the boat was not moving and the captain fled in a smaller boat. They added that they needed food and water.

6:30pm (16:30GMT): The Greek coastguard said it observed the ship with a helicopter and found it “on a steady course”.

Later, Greek search and rescue officials said they were able to reach someone on the ship via satellite phone who repeatedly said passengers needed food and water but wanted to continue on to Italy.

Aerial photos taken by the Greek coastguard in the hours before the tragedy showed a ship packed with people on the exposed deck. Some held out their hands.

Man diverts body bags carrying migrants
Body bags of refugees who died after their boat capsized off the coast of Greece, June 14, 2023 [Stelios Misinas/Reuters]

Greek officials say they face a dilemma about what to do with a ship that has repeatedly refused to provide aid, fearing that even the slightest movement could throw the ship off balance.

8:05pm (18:05GMT): Passengers called police saying they had taken water from the merchant vessel Lucky Sailor and had contacted police. Emergency calls also noted a second merchant vessel, the Faithful Warrior, approaching the ship.

Wednesday at 12:46am (22:46GMT): The emergency call reported its last contact with the vessel in distress. All it heard was: “Hello, my friend. … The ship you sent is …” The call cut off.

The Greek coastguard said the merchant ship was delivering supplies and watching the vessel until satellite phone users reported engine problems in the morning.

About 40 minutes later, according to the Coast Guard, the boat began to shake violently and sank.

The Greek coastguard said the boat’s engine stopped working shortly before 1am on Wednesday [23:00 GMT Tuesday] The boat capsized and sank in about 10 to 15 minutes.

who said what?

Coast Guard experts believe the boat may have run out of fuel or experienced engine failure, and the movement of passengers caused it to capsize.

If they had tried to intervene, the ship could have capsized earlier, they said.

But Greece’s leftist former prime minister Alexis Tsipras said passengers were “crying for help”.

“What kind of agreement doesn’t call for the rescue of … an overloaded ship that’s about to sink?” he asked.

Sophie said in a recovery image posted on Facebook that the Greek coast guard had been towing the boat before it capsized.

According to messages between Sophie and the passengers, the Greek Coast Guard tied a rope to the fishing boat.

Greek lawmaker Kriton Arsenis, who spoke to some of the survivors in Kalamata, confirmed the claim and accused the coast guard of trying to steer the boat into Italian waters.

Greek authorities made no mention of any attempt to tug the boat in their statement after the shipwreck.

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