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Accountability Needed for Pylos Shipwreck

Naval Court Should Advance Investigations Promptly, Effectively, and Impartially

Two survivors of the deadly Pylos shipwreck along with supporters participate in a protest calling for justice in Athens, Greece, May 20, 2024. © 2024 Louisa Gouliamaki/Reuters

Nine Egyptians who survived a devastating shipwreck off the coat of Pylos, Greece, were acquitted Tuesday of people smuggling and unlawful entry, almost a year after they were hastily arrested.

The Greek criminal court also dismissed the charges of causing the shipwreck, which killed hundreds of people, and of forming a criminal organization, saying it did not have jurisdiction over the case, as the shipwreck occurred in international waters. As a general rule, the flag state – or where a ship is registered – has jurisdiction over a vessel on the high seas, although it appears that the Adriana, the ship at issue, was not formally registered anywhere.

Now, all eyes are on Greece’s Naval Court, which is investigating the actions of the Hellenic Coast Guard on that fateful day. There is no question that the Naval Court has jurisdiction over the Hellenic Coast Guard no matter where it operates.

In the early hours of June 14, 2023, the overcrowded and unseaworthy Adriana capsized off the coast of Pylos, Greece. Only 104 people were rescued alive, while 82 corpses were recovered and as many as 600 people were lost. Research by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented a catalogue of failures by Greek authorities, from the moment they first learned about the boat to when, fifteen hours later, hundreds of people were thrown from the boat into the cold, dark waters of the Mediterranean Sea. We also collected testimonies from survivors who consistently said the boat capsized when a Hellenic Coast Guard patrol boat attempted to tow it.

Our two organizations expressed serious concerns about the independence and integrity of the criminal investigation that led to the charges against the nine survivors and about their fair trial rights. A principal concern was that the parallel investigation by the Naval Court, which opened almost immediately after the shipwreck, remains at the preliminary stages.

It is vital that the Naval Court proceed with a full and credible investigation. Fifty-three survivors joined the case with a complaint alleging that the Greek authorities were responsible for the shipwreck, and many of them have been summoned to testify. The Naval Court’s prosecutor’s request for forensic analysis of coast guard officers’ phones – only seized by authorities in late September 2023 – is still pending.

A full accounting of what happened is paramount to securing truth and justice for survivors and the families of victims. It should also serve to help avoid future deaths.

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