Early in the morning on July 30th a boat capsized northeast of Lesvos at the Greek-Turkish border. Aboard had been 13 people trying to reach Europe. According to a local, they were first discovered by fishermen who heard the screaming of the people in distress in the dark. The fishermen then immediately contacted the Hellenic Coast Guard just after 4 am. The coast guard showed up about 20 min later and started rescuing immediately. At 05:12 am Stratos Varliamos, local fisherman and captain of the Search and Rescue vessel Nomad from the NGO Attika Human Support was called by the Coast Guard to assist in the search for the missing people.
The Nomad rushed to the coordinates, which were reached at 05:45 according to their incident report. The Hellenic Coast Guard vessel ΛΣ910 was coordinating on scene and had released a RHIB to assist the shipwrecked and instructed the Nomad crew to look for two missing women and one baby.
They search together until the Hellenic Coast Guard station in Molyvos calls the Nomad repeatedly and instructs Stratos to return to port, as “he should not have gone out with the rescue asset but with his personal wooden fishing boat.”
"At that moment I was in a haze and I didn't realise what was going on around me. I should never have left scene and go back." but he follows the order and returns. Upon arrival at the port, Coast Guard operatives were waiting for him to conduct a security check of the boat.
It remains unclear why the authorities retract a rescue asset from a scene where lives are at stake. "Who is giving these orders", Stratos is asking, "is it an order from the state not to go help these people, even though it is the legal thing to do?"
Stratos has witnessed many things on the shores of Lesvos in the recent years. "Things that would not even be shown in movies." He has a fishing boat and a fully equipped and certified rescue boat. "Who would be as stupid to take a fishing vessel when a faster rescue vessel is available, and why would authorities ask that sort of assistance?"
From that shipwreck, ten people could be rescued. But three people, two women and a baby, remain missing. We must assume that they drowned on their way to Europe. "Nobody has been found, and they will not be found because the sea current during that day probably carried them quickly far away."
It is absolutely incomprehensible how the Hellenic Coast Guard sent a fully-equipped SAR asset away in a matter of saving human lives. The search for survivors could have been a lot quicker and possibly successful with the SAR boat remaining on scene. Although the HCG may be responsible for the deaths of three people because their reluctance to cooperate with an NGO was more important than saving lives, they are focusing on blaming the Turkish Coast Guard for the incident. This geopolitical power game between Greece and Turkey puts hundreds of people on the move in mortal danger every day.
We deeply mourn the dead and our thoughts are with those left behind. We also demand from the authorities to investigate into the doubtful actions of that day.