Greek ferry captain, three seamen charged over death of tardy passenger

FILE - The ferry boat Blue Horizon is docked during seamen's unions strike at the port of Piraeus, near Athens on Sept. 3, 2018. A Greek island ferry captain and three of his crew faced homicide charges on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, over the death of a late passenger who was pushed by crew members into the sea as he tried to force his way onto the departing Blue Horizon in the country's main port of Piraeus. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File)
The ferry boat Blue Horizon is docked during seamen's unions strike at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, on September 3, 2018 [File: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Photo]

A Greek prosecutor has brought criminal charges against an island ferry captain and three of his crew over the death of a tardy passenger whom a crew member pushed into the sea as he tried to board the departing vessel in Greece’s main port of Piraeus.

On Wednesday, one crew member was charged with homicide with possible intent and the other two with complicity, while the captain was charged with severe breaches of shipping regulations, state-run ERT television reported.

Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said the man, who had bought a ticket, had boarded the ship before disembarking for unknown reasons and then tried to board again before being pushed by crew members. He identified the victim as Andonis Kargiotis, 36.

“I feel shock and horror for what has happened,” Varvitsiotis told Parapolitika radio station. “The images are revealing and shocking. I also feel great sadness for the loss of the 36-year-old man.”

The incident late Tuesday, captured on a video shared on social media, sparked anger across the maritime country. It showed the passenger running onto the Blue Horizon ferry’s loading ramp, which was still down and in place on the quay, as the ship had cast off its moorings and was about to leave. He tried to push past two crew members on the ramp, who stopped him and manhandled him onto the quay.

When the man stepped onto the ramp again, one crew member stopped him and pushed him off as the ferry was departing. He vanished into the growing gap between the vessel and the quay as the water was violently churned by the ship’s powerful screws.

The crew appeared to do nothing to help him and the ferry continued sailing towards the island of Crete before being ordered back to Piraeus.

The coastguard said the man was recovered unconscious from the harbour waters and later pronounced dead. An autopsy determined drowning as the cause of death.

‘Irresponsible behaviour’

In a social media post on Wednesday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis deplored what he called “a combination of irresponsible behaviour and cynicism, contempt and indifference” that led to the man’s death. “Yesterday’s shameful incident is not indicative of the kind of country we want,” he added.

Varvitsiotis condemned the crew members for their “illegal acts” and their failure to follow “the basic principle that Greek seamen have honoured for centuries”, which is to rescue people at sea and “not to throw them into it, particularly in such circumstances”, the minister added in a statement.

Varvitsiotis also said he ordered an investigation into how port police responded to the incident.

Attica Group, which owns the Blue Horizon, initially issued a brief statement saying it was “devastated by the tragic incident” and would cooperate with the authorities.

In a longer statement several hours later, it expressed sorrow for Kargiotis’s death and pledged an investigation into the “unthinkable” incident.

Small protests over the incident were held late Wednesday in Piraeus and the port of Heraklion on Crete.

Piraeus is Greece’s biggest port and the main gateway for millions of travellers visiting the country’s Aegean Sea islands and Crete every year.

Source: News Agencies