Greece court dismisses charges against nine Egyptians over Pylos shipwreck

Rights groups also argue that the defendants’ right to a fair trial is compromised by ‘incomplete’ evidence.

Survivors of the deadly shipwreck
Survivors of the deadly shipwreck, Zahid Akbar, 21, and Inzimam Maqbool, 22, along with relatives, lawyers and supporters, participate in a protest calling for justice, before the trial, in Athens, Greece, on May 20, 2024 [Louisa Gouliamaki/Reuters]

A Greek court has dismissed charges against nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of refugees and migrants last year after a prosecutor said Greece had no jurisdiction over the site of the mishap.

Shortly after the trial opened on Tuesday in the southern city of Kalamata, public prosecutor Ekaterini Tsironi recommended that the charges be dismissed, saying that Greek jurisdiction could not be established because the overcrowded trawler sank outside the country’s territorial waters.

Before the trial, international human rights groups argued that the defendants’ right to a fair trial had been compromised as they faced judgement before an investigation had been concluded into claims the Hellenic coastguard may have botched the rescue attempt.

A small group of protesters clashed with riot police earlier on Tuesday outside the court as the proceedings got under way.

The defendants, most of whom are in their 20s, could have faced up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges over the sinking of the Adriana fishing trawler on June 14, 2023.

There were about 750 people on board the trawler, which was travelling from Libya to Italy, and more than 550 people were believed to have died, according to rights groups and independent investigators.

Following the sinking, 104 people were rescued – mostly from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt – and 82 bodies were recovered.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the shipwreck off the southern coast of Greece as “horrific”.

Pylos shipwreck
Police clash with protesters outside the court in Kalamata, Greece, on May 21, 2024 [Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Photo]

Allegations against Hellenic coastguard

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

“It’s really important to remember that justice will only be done via a full and transparent accounting of the responsibilities of the Greek authorities,” Judith Sunderland, an associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said before Tuesday’s dismissal.

Authorities had said the defendants were identified by other survivors, and the indictments were based on their testimonies.

Survivor testimonies provided to Al Jazeera pin the blame on the Greek coastguard, which attempted to tow the vessel, causing it to flip over, saying it did not sufficiently act to save the lives of those in the water.

The Hellenic coastguard has denied these allegations.

People walking down a boat
Paramedics of the Greek National Emergency Ambulance Service (EKAV) and members of the Greek Red Cross help refugees and migrants upon arrival at Kalamata’s port [File: Bougiotis Evangelos/EPA-EFE]

A joint Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report, based on testimonies from representatives of the Hellenic coastguard, the Greek police, and nongovernmental organisations, also concluded that the coastguard did not properly respond to distress calls.

An investigation in Greece’s naval court into the Hellenic coastguard’s role in the shipwreck has yet to conclude.

“The Pylos 9 defendants were unjustly arrested and charged with smuggling offences based on limited and questionable evidence,” Marion Bouchetel, a member of Legal Centre Lesvos, which is defending the accused, told Al Jazeera.

“Our argument, following the testimonies of the survivors, is that these nine people are not responsible for the sinking at the very least. The coastguard is responsible for the sinking,” Stefanos Levidis, one of the lead researchers in an investigation into the shipwreck, told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies