Survivors of the Pylos shipwreck where 600 men, women & children drowned march in Athens

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Surviving refugees of the Pylos shipwreck holding banners at last Friday’s Athens rally. Back banner reads ‘The Murderers of Pylos Must be Punished’. Front banner, depicting passport photos of drowned refugees, reads ‘The 600 Drowned Refugees of Pylos have Names! No Cover-Up of the Crime!

REFUGEE survivors of the Pylos shipwreck off the western shores of Greece, where approximately 600 children, women and men were drowned on 15 June 2023, staged an intense anti-government rally and march in Athens last Friday evening.

They demonstrated along with 2,000 youth, workers and delegations of hospital, teachers and public sector trade unions, demanding ‘justice now, trial and punishment of those responsible for the crime’.

At the front of the march the refugees held a large banner which read: ‘No cover-up of the crime at Pylos – Open borders’.

The main slogans on the march were: ‘It wasn’t a shipwreck – it was murder; Down with the government New Democracy party’; ‘Pylos Tempi crimes demand justice’; ‘Borders open’; ‘Workers’ Europe not a fortress of capitalists’; ‘Freedom in Palestine’.

The refugees’ boat, carrying about 750 people according to survivors’ testimonies, had sailed from Egypt heading to Italy. On 14 June 2023, it was spotted by the FRONTEX (the European Union’s anti-immigration agency) airplane at about 40 miles west of Pylos harbour.

Just past midnight and into the early hours of 15 June 2023, in calm seas, the boat was intercepted by a Greek Coastguard patrol ship.

At the Athens rally last Friday, Takis Zotos, one of the lawyers acting on behalf of 53 refugee survivors, spoke on the causes of the shipwreck according to the refugees’ testimonies.

Zotos stated: ‘Of the approximately 750 people on the refugees’ boat, 104 survived the shipwreck, 82 drowned bodies were found, while about 500 people are missing.

‘A lawsuit on behalf of the 53 refugee survivors has been filed in the Maritime Court of Piraeus. One year has passed with little progress.

‘The sea was calm the night of the wreck. The Greek Coast Guard ship moored the refugee boat with a cable, then towed it with force and speed towards the West (Italy).

‘At one point, while speeding, the Coast Guard vessel suddenly cut the cable, where the refugee boat was tied, causing the boat to capsize.

‘The Coast Guard ship remained for an hour or so at a distance of less than one mile away from the capsized boat. The Coast Guard ship offered no help at all to the people in water.

‘The Greek Coast Guard knew of the vessel’s presence outside Pylos for many hours. Instead of sending a rescue vessel, the Coast Guard sent a pursuit speed ship.

‘Following this crime, the Greek Government denounced nine refugees who survived the shipwreck as the “traffickers” and imprisoned them for many months. But at the trial of the nine last month, all were acquitted and released, except one refugee who remains imprisoned for some administrative reasons.

‘The huge international movement of solidarity and justice for the shipwreck in Pylos, made the acquisitions of the nine refugees possible and it gives strength to the demands for justice, for a trial and for the conviction of those responsible. After the acquittal in Kalamata, the Greek Government is now accountable, the trial at the Piraeus Maritime Court must proceed quickly.’

Refugee lawyers have revealed that the ‘black box’ on the Coast Guard ship, whose manoeuvres resulted in the refugee shipwreck, were not operational during the Coast Guard ship’s actions.

Demonstrations of protest and demand for justice for the refugees were held in Thessaloniki, in Greek embassies in Europe and in Lalamousa, Pakistan.

The UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) is also demanding a ‘thorough investigation’ into the disaster. It states that since the Pylos shipwreck of 15 June 2023, the ‘Missing Migrants Project’ has recorded at least 1,516 deaths and disappearances on the Central Mediterranean Route, with 175 recorded on the Eastern Med. In 2023, 3,155 people lost their lives or went missing trying to cross the Mediterranean, while so far in 2024 the toll has reached 923.’