10/12: Alarm Phone alerted to sunken boat near Farmakonisi, 24 people dead; 3 cases of distress near Lesvos and Samos, 2 groups stranded on the islands of Farmakonisi and Pserimos

12.12.2015 / 18:39 / Aegean Sea

Watch The Med Alarm Phone Investigations – 10th of December 2015

Case name: 2015_12_10-AEG153
Situation: Alarm Phone alerted to sunken boat near Farmakonisi, 24 people dead
Status of WTM Investigation: Concluded
Place of Incident: Aegean Sea

Summary of the Cases: On Thursday the 10th of December 2015 the Alarm Phone was alerted to a group of travellers whose boat had sunken close to the Greek island of Farmakonisi. While 6 men were rescued, at least 24 people, mostly women and children went missing and are supposed have drowned. Beyond that, the Alarm Phone was alerted to two groups who had stranded on the Greek islands of Farmakonisi and Pserimos. In two further cases the Greek coastguard rescued 50 and 30 travellers near Lesvos and Samos, while one group the Alarm Phone was in contact with reached Lesvos independently.

At 0.30am a contact person alerted the Alarm Phone to a boat in distress close to the Greek island of Farmakonisi, with 30 people on board, among them 17 children and 6 women (case 1). We were provided with two phone numbers of the travellers, but both were not reachable. At 0.50am we informed the Greek coastguard’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Piraeus via phone and mail and forwarded the coordinates of the boat in distress to them. The coastguard told us that they were already aware of this boat, but did not state whether they would send a rescue vessel. As we were not able to established contact to the boat in the following hour, we called the coastguard again at 2am and urged them to take immediate action. Apparently they had not started a rescue mission but promised to do so in this phone call. Afterwards, many further alerts with respect to this boat in distress reached us. At 4am we called the Greek coastguard in Piraeus again. They told us that they were still searching for the boat in distress close to Farmakonisi but had not found it so far. Beyond that they asked us to find out further phone numbers of the travellers on board, as both numbers known were not reachable anymore. Afterwards, the person who alerted us first provided us with two further numbers, which were also not reachable though. However, at 4.40am we sent another e-mail to the Greek coastguard and forwarded the two new numbers. In the course of the next morning all phone numbers remained unreachable. Beyond that, at 3pm, the contact person informed us that he had not been able to reach the travellers for the last 14 hours and he also mentioned that his brother was on this boat. However, at 3.12pm we talked to the Greek coastguard in Piraeus, which told us that they had rescued all travellers from this boat, a statement that turned out to be false afterwards. In the following night, at 0.50am, the coordinates of this boat were again forwarded to us. We talked to another contact person, who confirmed to us that the travellers on board were still missing. In a talk with the Greek Joint Rescue Coordination at 1.10am we learned that the boat had sunk and that 27 people were still missing. In another call at 1.25am they told us that 6 bodies had been found already. In the afternoon of that day also the Turkish coastguard confirmed to us in a direct call, that they had rescued two travellers but that 6 bodies had been found and that the rest of the group was missing. Meanwhile, Greek media started to report on this shipwreck, stating that a Frontex vessel had started a search and rescue operation around 2am in the early morning of Thursday the 10th of December and had found many people in the sea.

On the following day, Saturday the 12th of December, we were able to speak to our initial contact person, whose brother was on the boat, and also to several survivors of this shipwreck, all of them Iraqis. According to them, the group had departed from Didim/Turkey around midnight on Thursday morning in a metal boat with a cabin. 30 travellers had been on board, with 6 men on top of the boat and the rest, including 17 children and 6 women, in the cabin. The boat had already been close to the Greek island of Farmakonisi when it started to sink. The group sent a distress call to a contact person, who alerted us afterwards. The boat started to sink very quickly at about 1.15am, with the largest part of the group stuck inside the cabin, unable to leave it. Only the 6 men on top of the boat were able to rescue themselves by swimming. Four of them reached Farmakonisi, while two took the other direction and were afterwards rescued by the Turkish coastguard. The survivors who reached the Greek island told us that they had the impression that the rescue vessels came much too late. However, they also mentioned that they saw at least three rescue vessels and a helicopter while swimming in the direction of the island. After the four survivors had reached Farmakonisi they were brought to the island of Leros and afterwards went to Athens. We forwarded the details of the case, including a list of names and photos of the missing families, to different Human Rights organisations in Greece and Turkey for further investigations.

In the same night, at 0.50am, the Alarm Phone was alerted to a group of 20 travellers who had stranded on an island unknown to them (case 2). We talked to them afterwards, but as they had no internet connection, we were not able to determine their exact position. We asked them to wait until the next morning and promised to inform the authorities on the Greek island of Leros as soon as possible. At 4.40am, in an e-mail regarding case 1 we also alerted the coastguard to this group. At 7.30am we talked to the travellers again, who where fine and had found a house on the island, where they had spent the night, waiting to be picked up. Later on they forwarded a GPS position to us, which showed them on the Greek island of Pserimos. At 8am we informed the responsible port authorities on Leros, who promised to send a boat to this island in the course of the day. Afterwards we informed the travellers and the contact person accordingly. At 10.30am we talked again to the travellers, who were still on the island. At 11am we called the UNHCR Greece, which was already informed about this case by us via e-mail. They had already started to negotiate with the authorities on Leros, but so far without success. At about noon we talked to the travellers again and learned that they had walked to a village and had spoken to the local port authorities, who told them that they would be transferred to another island on the next day. On Friday the 11th of December we learned from the person who had initially contacted us, that the group had been picked up from the island of Pserimos and that they were fine.

At 8.30am a contact person informed us about another boat in distress north of Lesvos, close to Tsonia (case 3). We talked to the travellers immediately and learned that they were 31 people, among them 12 children. The engine of their boat had stopped and they were afraid to sink. At 8.40am we alerted the Greek coastguard in Piraeus and they promised to take care of the travellers in distress. Afterwards we also spoke to the Spanish live-saving activists of Pro Activa on Lesvos and they told us that the vessel of Greenpeace is in this area and also that the coastguard had left for Tsonia. Beyond that, we also informed the coastguard and the UNHCR in Greece and Turkey about the boat via e-mail at 8.50am. At 9.15am we talked again to the travellers, who were in severe distress at that moment. However, 30 minutes later, the Greek coastguard confirmed to us, that the boat in distress had been rescued by a Greek patrol vessel and all travellers had been saved. At 10.10am we also received a photo from our initial contact person, showing the rescue operation.

In the afternoon of this day we were informed about a large group of travellers who were stuck on the Greek Farmakonisi (case 4). A contact person told us that they have arrived some days earlier with a group of 400 people, of which 300 had already been transferred to another island. However, 100 travellers were left on Farmakonisi and were in urgent need of water and food. At 5.23pm we called the Greek coastguard in Piraeus, who forwarded our call to the local port authorities. They said that they know about the group, but asked to call them back one hour later. Afterwards we also sent an e-mail to the Greek authorities and to the UNHCR in Greece and Turkey. On the next day we were again in contact with the Greek authorities and with the Leros solidarity group with respect to the many travellers who had stranded on Farmakonisi in the last days and were again alerted to these cases by many contact persons, who even told us that two children had died on the island, which later fortunately turned out not to be the case. At 11.10am we talked to the port authorities on Leros, who refused to give us new information about the current situation. However, they told us that the people who had been on the island for several days, had been picked up in the meantime. In the early afternoon, at 2.30pm, we talked to a representative of the UNHCR in Greece. She told us that the situation both on Farmakonisi and on Leros was very difficult, due to many shipwrecks in the last days. However, she confirmed that the coastguard had picked up at least 300 travellers from Farmakonisi on the previous day, but that about 80 travellers had to remain on the island. She was not sure about the time of their rescue, but promised to further negotiate with the authorities to send another rescue vessel. On the other hand, she was not able to confirm that children had already died, but asked for sources to talk to, in order to verify this claim. We talked with the contact person who had told us about the dead children and he agreed to forward his phone number to the UNHCR, which we did via e-mail.

At 8.15pm a contact person alerted us to a sinking boat north of the Greek island of Samos, with 50 people on board (case 5). We called the Greek coastguard immediately afterwards and also informed them via e-mail at 8.30pm. At 10.50pm the contact person informed us that the travellers had been rescued by the Greek coastguard.

The same contact person also informed us about a boat in distress with around 40 persons on board on their way to Lesvos at 10.20pm (case 6). Their boat’s engine had stopped and the sea was very wavy and dangerous. They were urgently asking for help. We informed the Greek coastguard at 10.30pm via e-mail, however, at 11pm the contact person informed us that the boat’s engine had started again and that they had safely reach the island.
Last update: 19:00 Dec 22, 2015
Credibility: UP DOWN 0
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  • Border police patrols
    While the exact location of patrols is of course constantly changing, this line indicates the approximate boundary routinely patrolled by border guards’ naval assets. In the open sea, it usually correspond to the outer extent of the contiguous zone, the area in which “State may exercise the control necessary to prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws” (UNCLOS, art. 33). Data source: interviews with border police officials.
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    Maritime area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea in which the coastal state exercises sovereign rights for the purposes of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, the seabed and its subsoil and the superjacent waters. Its breadth is 200 nautical miles from the straight baselines from which the territorial sea is measured (UNCLOS, Arts. 55, 56 and 57). Data source: Juan Luis Suárez de Vivero, Atlas of the European Seas and Oceans
  • Frontex operations
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  • Mobile phone coverage
    Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network coverage. Data source: Collins Mobile Coverage.
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  • Search and Rescue Zone
    An area of defined dimensions within which a given state is has the responsibility to co-ordinate Search and Rescue operations, i.e. the search for, and provision of aid to, persons, ships or other craft which are, or are feared to be, in distress or imminent danger. Data source: IMO availability of search and rescue (SAR) services - SAR.8/Circ.3, 17 June 2011.
  • Territorial Waters
    A belt of sea (usually extending up to 12 nautical miles) upon which the sovereignty of a coastal State extends (UNCLOS, Art. 2). Data source: Juan Luis Suárez de Vivero, Atlas of the European Seas and Oceans