The thanker Aristotanis was heading to Crete, when they came across a wooden boat in distress, 70 nautical miles southwest of the island of Schiza, Peloponnese.
The tanker, carrying Marshall Island flag, decided to take the people onboard, because the wooden boat was drifting and taking in water.
The wooden boat was supposedly carrying 150 people, the boat had started out of Izmir area, bound for Italy. Onboard was a mix of people from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, 36 of them are children.
According to both rescued passengers and the crew on Aristotanis, a woman, while climbing the ladder up to the deck of the tanker, slipped and fell, they had no means of rescuing her, and she disappeared in the sea.
The woman was told to be an Iranian citizen, around 30 years,traveling with her husband. A passenger in contact with Aegean Boat Report said that she was also pregnant, so it was not one life lost but two.
A coast guard patrol boat, one air force helicopter and one navy helicopter were scrambled to the area and initiated a search and rescue operation, as far as we know the search have been without any result.
The tanker Aristotanis, bound for Egypt, headed to the nearest port on its route, Paleochora, south west of Crete, to disembark the rescued passengers. Why this port was decided is unknown, the port can not doc vessels of this size. Several ports on Crete are equipped to handle vessels like this, Khania, Rethymno, Sitia and Iraklio, but according to information from the Hellenic coast guard, non of these ports had any available space, not even in an emergency like this.
When the tanker arrived in Paleochora Central Port Authority in Chania sent out vessels to take the rescued passengers to port, but they refused to be taken to land, and wanted to be taken to Italy, their original destination.
This is understandably not possible, but we understand that people are scared, and their refusal to disembark on Crete is most likely linked to the Greek government’s systematic and illegal practice, pushing back people who have arrived in Greece, without giving them any possibility to apply for asylum.
From pictures and videos sent from people on the tanker, we can see a heavy presence of men in uniforms, carrying guns.
Particularly interesting, is the men wearing special ops uniforms, unlike the regular uniforms of the Hellenic coast guard, without any distinctions, black gloves and face covered with balaclavas.
These are dressed in the same way, as the men we have seen numerous times carrying out violent illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, from HCG vessels and small RIBs. Why should this kind of firepower be needed, to transfer unarmed men, women and children, from a tanker to port, it seems a bit out of place, perhaps these people have something to fear after all.
Hopefully they will eventually be taken to port, and given their right to apply for asylum. The story has already been published in several newspapers, international and local, so it seems unlikely that the Greek government would risk pushing them back, and create even more attention to their illegal enterprise, but who knows. We have seen similar cases, where people ended up drifting in life rafts in the Aegean Sea.
People on the tanker say it’s quite, most people are sleeping, but they fear what tomorrow will bring, hopefully everything will work out for the best.
As one officer told a group on the tanker, “if you don’t go willingly, we will force you, or you will be sent to Egypt with the tanker”, not very likely considering international laws, but then again Greece seems to ignore international law at their own pleasing.
According to the local newspaper on Crete, neaKriti, the plan is to transfer the refugees to Chania, since there is no accommodation in Paleochora. The Mayor of Chania, Mr. Panagiotis Simandrakis, told neaKriti, that they will be accommodated in the children’s camp of Kakathas, and that the preparations have already been made.
Our thoughts go out to the husband, who not only lost his wife, but also his unborn child. More unnecessary lives lost at sea, as a result of our unwillingness to create safe passage for vulnerable people seeking protection in Europe.