Tracing a tragedy: How hundreds of migrants drowned on Greece’s watch

The earliest of more than a dozen distress calls came the morning of June 13. On a boat overpacked with migrants, water had run out and the situation was deteriorating.

Yet the Greek coast guard did not call for a high-priority rescue operation. In subsequent hours, officials maintained the vessel was proceeding with a “steady course and speed” and people on board didn’t want help. Greek officials deny responsibility for what happened that night, when the migrant boat, a fishing trawler known as the Adriana, capsized and sent as many as 750 people into the Mediterranean Sea.

The conflicting accounts of the Adriana’s final minutes are the most fraught — whether the boat capsized as a result of a panic-induced shift in weight, as the coast guard contends, or it overturned while being towed by the coast guard, as some survivors have described.

But an investigation by The Washington Post also casts doubt on the other main claims by Greek officials and suggests that the deadliest Mediterranean shipwreck in years was a preventable tragedy.

[They knew the boat could sink. Boarding it didn’t feel like a choice.]

Contrary to the coast guard account that the boat was making steady progress and determined to get to Italy, The Post found the boat’s speed fluctuated dramatically — in line with passenger recollections of engine problems — while circling back on its route.

Maritime rescue veterans and legal experts said Greek officials exploited indications that aid wasn’t wanted and failed in their obligation to launch an all-hands rescue effort as soon as the precarious boat was detected.

“This is egregious,” said Aaron Davenport, a retired senior officer in the U.S. Coast Guard who commanded sea rescue operations, including those involving migrants. “They sent a helicopter out there. They should have sent a whole bunch of vessels, called for assistance from all over the lower Mediterranean, and gotten life preservers and gotten these people out.”

Coast guard spokesperson Nikos Alexiou said Greece should be recognized for ultimately helping to rescue 104 people. “We were there trying to get them to get help,” he said. “They didn’t realize the danger. [There was] good weather, they were sailing normally.”

Retracing the path of the Adriana

To retrace the path of the Adriana, The Post examined satellite imagery, mapped ship traffic data and integrated coordinates from distress calls and official reports and testimony. To reconstruct what happened, The Post then compared official statements, accounts from the merchant vessels and interviews with survivors, activists and maritime experts. All times are in Central European Summer Time (CEST).


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