According to video accounts of Pakistani survivors, Greek authorities deliberately sunk the vessel and provided no rescue efforts.
In the video, survivors can be heard saying: “They have done this [on purpose]. They have sunk it themselves.” The other added, “We did not sink for five days, so why would we sink now?”
They recounted that the ship’s engine had broken down, leaving them still for almost a week. “We did not drown even though our engine had [completely] shut down. [the boat] sunk because of the one-maund-rope they threw into the boat.”
In an investigation conducted by the BBC, many discrepancies were found in the statements released by the Greek authorities. For one, the coastguard claims that in the hours before the boat capsized, it was on a “steady course to Italy and not in need of rescue.”
However, analysis of the movement of other ships in the area suggests that the migrant boat was not moving for at least seven hours before the disaster. This corroborates eyewitness accounts of Pakistani survivors.
The UN has called for an investigation into Greece’s handling of the disaster. Greek authorities have not yet responded to the BBC’s findings.
FIA arrests 10 alleged traffickers
Calamity struck a migrant boat that capsized off the south-eastern coast of Greece last week on Wednesday, leaving hundreds of Pakistani migrants dead. On Sunday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced a high-level investigation to trace the human traffickers behind the incident. So far 10 alleged traffickers have been arrested in connection to the tragedy.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested the suspected human traffickers from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and another one from Karachi airport who was attempting to flee abroad, Geo News has reported.
The 10 suspected traffickers are “presently under investigation for their involvement in facilitating the entire process” according to Chaudary Shaukat, an official from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Last week in the early hours of Wednesday morning, a migrant boat capsized off the Southern Peloponnese while on its course to Italy from the Libyan town of Tobruk. The Guardian reported most of the victims were men from Pakistan and Afghanistan. More sinister details have since emerged from witness accounts.
According to witnesses, the Pakistanis onboard were ‘forced below deck’ where they had far less chance of surviving a capsize. The Observer also reported that crew members were maltreating the Pakistanis below deck when they would appear in search of fresh water or tried to escape.
The number of Pakistani lives lost is estimated to be around 298. 135 of them are reported to be from the Kashmir region. Greek authorities have yet to release a confirmation on Pakistan’s death toll.
Mismanagement and alleged cover-up
Many questions have been raised since witness accounts spread across global news, specifically about the role of Greek authorities in the tragedy.
On Friday, two days after the accident, a spokesperson of the Greek government claimed that their assistance had been refused by the migrant boat after they threw a rope to the vessel to “stabilize and check if it needed help.” This contradicted the coastguard’s earlier statements that it had kept a ‘discreet distance’ from the boat.
According to a witness interviewed by CNN, Greek authorities were seen towing the vessel with ropes, but since the ropes were tied in the “wrong places”, the boat capsized.
The witness, Tarek Aldroobi, had three relatives on board. He told CNN, “Their boat was in good condition and the Greek navy tried towing them to the beach but the ropes were tied in the wrong places,” Aldroobi said. “When the Greek navy tried pulling them it caused the boat to capsize.”
Nikos Alexiou, a spokesman for the coastguard, defended their response. He said their patrol boat only used a small rope to stabilize itself while it was close to the migrant boat, and that they were unable to tow it.
In an interview with CNN, Alexiou explained: “Regretfully there was movement of people, a shift in weight probably caused by panic and the boat capsized. As soon as we got there, we started our rescue operation to collect those who were in the water.”
In a report by The Guardian, Maurice Stierl, from the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at Osnabrück University in Germany, responded to the coastguard’s defense: “What caused the sudden shift in weight? Was there a panic on board? Did something happen during the attempt to provide them with something? Or was it towed? And due to this towing, did the boat go down?”
According to Stierl, EU countries ‘weaponise time’ by delaying rescue as long as they can. “They have managed to build in delays into European engagement at sea. They’re actively sort of hiding, in fact, from migrant boats, so that they are not drawn into rescue operations. We can see how a strategy is being created, that slows down –actively and consciously slows down – rescue efforts,” Stierl explains.
Questions arose over whether the Greek coastguard should have intervened earlier, as government officials confirmed patrol boats and cargo ships had been shadowing the migrant vessel since Tuesday afternoon.