Athens denies that Greek coastguard deliberately tried to sink Syrian refugee boat

© Yannis Behrakis
The Greek coastguard has strenuously denied allegations from Turkey that it deliberately tried to sink an inflatable refugee boat carrying Syrian refugees crossing the Aegean Sea. A video appeared to show a man trying to prod a life raft with a pole.

The footage was released by the Turkish Institute of Public Diplomacy and appears to show a person on board the Greek vessel apparently trying to sink the inflatable dinghy, despite it being packed with 58 refugees.

The life raft began to sink, with the refugees frantically blowing whistles and shouting for help. The Turkish coastguard intervened and pulled the migrants to safety from the dinghy. They were then taken to the Turkish port of Didim.

However, the Hellenic Coast Guard has strenuously denied the allegations.

“The Headquarters of the Hellenic Coast Guard categorically denies reports in the foreign press and altered audiovisual material on a foreign website, according to which a vessel of the Hellenic Coast Guard is allegedly attempting to sink a boat with refugees,” a statement read.

The statement added that both the Greek and Turkish coastguards were assisting one another in trying to rescue the dinghy, which was packed with refugees.

“A crew member is attempting to pull close to the side of a large rescue ship a small inflatable dinghy using a navy hook, while an adjacent vessel of the Turkish Coast Guard assists the rescue operation illuminating and facilitating all actions via floodlight.”

Reuters reports that the incident occurred on November 12, and the head of the Greek coastguard had been shown the video by his Turkish counterpart.

"We would be very pleased if you order your team to refrain from such acts," Commander Rear Admiral Hakan Ustem, of the Turkish Coast Guard allegedly said.

“The Hellenic Coast Guard also categorically denies that talks took place between the heads of the two coastguards of Greece and Turkey as presented in reports in the Turkish press,” the Greek coastguard said in the statement. 

The Greek coastguards say they have rescued around 90,000 refugees stranded at sea since the start of 2015, while any attempt to sink a boat full of migrants is “incompatible with our values and culture and is absolutely deplorable.”

Around 650,000 refugees and migrants fleeing war and extreme poverty in the Middle East and Africa have made the treacherous journey to Greece by sea, and thousands have drowned making the attempt.

This is not the first time there are reports of some parties trying to sink inflatable rafts carrying refugees. 

A damning Human Rights Watch report in October said that armed masked men from around the Greek islands have been targeting migrant boats and turning them back, sometimes throwing their engines away. 

Two incidents are reported to have taken place on October 7 and 9, respectively, when attackers allegedly disabled the engines of several boats and even punctured holes in their inflatable hulls. Some of the inflatable rafts were towed back into Turkish waters.

Human Rights Watch is outraged by the findings and the organization’s Greece specialist, Eva Cosse, is demanding action. These “criminal actions require an urgent response from the Greek authorities,” she said.