Some 200 people in the Greek port city of Piraeus marched to the offices of European border agency FRONTEX and the Hellenic Guard on Sunday, protesting their handling of last week’s deadly shipwreck off the coast of Pylos.
There are mounting questions as to whether the Greek coastguard should have intervened earlier to help get the migrants onboard to safety.
There are still more questions than answers about what led up to one of the worst shipwrecks in recent Mediterranean history. Critics say the Greek coastguard and Frontex should have intervened earlier
Up to 750 men, women and children from Syria, Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Pakistan were on board the vessel trying to reach Europe when it sank.
Below is a timeline of events based on reports from Greek authorities, a commercial ship, and activists who said they were in touch with passengers. They describe sequences of events that at times converge, but also differ in key ways.
All times are given in Greece’s time zone.
Around 11 am on Tuesday
Italian authorities informed Greece that a fishing trawler packed with migrants was in international waters southwest of the Peloponnese. Greece said the Italian authorities were alerted by an activist.
Around the same time, human rights activist Nawal Soufi wrote on social media that she had been contacted by a woman on a boat that had left Libya four days earlier.
The migrants had run out of water, Soufi wrote and shared GPS coordinates through a satellite phone showing they were approximately 100 kilometres from Greece.
Over the course of the day, Soufi described some 20 calls with people on the trawler in a series of social media posts and a later audio recording.
A surveillance aircraft from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, commonly known as Frontex, spotted the overcrowded trawler and notified Greek authorities. On Saturday, Frontex said that its plane had to leave the scene after 10 minutes because of a fuel shortage, but that it had also shared details and photos of the “heavily overcrowded” trawler with Greece.
Greek authorities established contact with someone on the trawler. The vessel “did not request any assistance from the coast guard or from Greece,” according to a statement.
But activists said that people on the boat were already in desperate need by Tuesday afternoon.
Soufi wrote on social media that passengers told her that seven people were unconscious.
Around the same time, Alarm Phone, a network of activists said they received a call from a person on the trawler.
“They say they cannot survive the night, that they are in heavy distress,” Alarm Phone wrote.
A Greek coast guard helicopter located the trawler. An aerial photo released showed that it was packed, with people covering nearly the entire deck.
From then until 9 pm, Greek authorities said, they were in contact with people on the trawler by satellite phone, radio, and shouted conversations conducted by merchant vessels and a coast guard boat that arrived at night. They added that people on the trawler repeatedly said they wanted to continue to Italy and refused rescue.
Greek authorities asked a Maltese-flagged tanker called the Lucky Sailor to bring the trawler food and water.
According to the company that manages the Lucky Sailor, people on the trawler “were very hesitant to receive any assistance,” and shouted that “they want to go to Italy.” Eventually, the trawler was persuaded to accept supplies, Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Ltd. wrote in a statement.
Around 6 pm
A Greek coast guard helicopter reported that the trawler was “sailing on a steady course and heading.”
Alarm Phone said that people on board reported that they weren’t moving and that the “captain” had abandoned the trawler in a small boat.
“Please any solution,” someone on board told Alarm Phone.
The Greek authorities’ account suggested the trawler stopped around that time to receive supplies from the Lucky Sailor.
Soufi wrote that migrants on board told her that six people had died and another two were very sick. No other account so far has mentioned deaths prior to the shipwreck.
Around 9 pm
Greek authorities asked a second, Greek-flagged, merchant vessel to deliver water, and allowed the Lucky Sailor to leave.
Around 10:40 pm
A coast guard boat from Crete reached the trawler and remained nearby until it sank. According to the coast guard, the vessel “discreetly observed” the trawler from a distance. Evvel again, the coast guard said, the trawler didn’t appear to have any problems and was moving “at a steady course and speed.”
According to Soufi, attempts to deliver supplies may have contributed to the trawler’s troubles.
Around 11 pm
Soufi wrote that the trawler began rocking as its passengers tried to catch water bottles from another vessel. According to people on board, ropes were tied to the ship, destabilising it and causing a “state of panic,” she said.
The report from the Lucky Sailor said that no lines were tied to the trawler, and supplies were delivered in watertight barrels tied to a rope.
“Those on board the boat caught the line and pulled,” the company managing the Lucky Sailor said.
The Greek coast guard said that its vessel had briefly attached a light rope to the trawler. A spokesperson stressed that none of the vessels had attempted to tow the trawler.
Commander Nikos Alexiou told Greek channel Ant1 TV that the coast guard wanted to check on the trawler’s condition, but people on board again refused help and untied the rope before continuing the course.
Soufi’s last contact with the trawler was at 11 pm. She said later in a voice memo that “they never expressed the will to continue sailing to Italy,” or refused assistance from Greece. “They were in danger and needed help.”
The captain of the coast guard vessel that reached the trawler less than three hours before it sank has testified to investigating authorities that the passengers refused any help.
The captain said that during the first approach, the passengers didn’t respond to his call and that he was ready to provide assistance.
Five minutes later, he said, the vessel stopped moving. His vessel inched closer and tied a rope to the ship’s bow but some passengers responded in English “No Help” and “Go Italy,” according to the news website kathimerini.gr which quotes from the captain’s deposition. Soon after, the migrants untied the rope and restarted the engine.
1:40 am Wednesday
According to authorities, the trawler kept moving until Wednesday morning when its engine stopped. The coast guard vessel then got closer to “determine the sorun.”
A few minutes later, Alarm Phone had a final exchange with people on the trawler. The activists were able to make out only: “Hello my friend … The ship you send is …” before the call cut off.
In the Greek captain’s leaked testimony, he said that he was informed that the trawler’s engine had stopped again. The coast guard vessel then approached within 70 metres of the boat for an inspection.
More than 15 hours after Greek authorities first heard of the case, the coast guard reported that the trawler began rocking violently from side to side, and then capsised.
People on deck were thrown into the sea, while others held onto the boat as it flipped. Many others, including women and children, were trapped below deck.
Fifteen minutes later, the trawler vanished underwater.
In the darkness of night, 104 people were rescued and brought to shore on the Mayan Queen IV, a luxury yacht that was sailing in the vicinity of the shipwreck. Greek authorities retrieved 78 bodies. No other people have been found since Wednesday.