0‬‬‬5/1/2016: Boats in distress near Lesvos, many deaths

06.01.2016 / 23:17 / Aegean Sea

Watch The Med Alarm Phone Investigations – 5th of January 2016

Case name: 2016_01_05-AEG177
Situation: Alarm Phone alerted to boats in distress near Lesvos, at least
Status of WTM Investigation: Concluded
Place of Incident: Aegean Sea

Summary of the Cases: In the night from Monday to Tuesday the 5th of January 2016, around midnight, the Alarm Phone was alerted to one or two boats in distress in the Aegean Sea. Six different contact persons and solidarity groups like United Rescue and Nawal Soufi's activist collective informed us via WhatsApp about a boat in urgent distress on the way to Lesvos, but still in Turkish waters and we received several GPS coordinates. We immediately reached out to both the Turkish and the Greek Coastguards. The Greek Coastguard referred us to the Turkish coastguard, because the positions were in Turkish waters. We also called the three contact numbers of travellers on the boat(s) and were successful in one case. The person we talked to confirmed that they were in urgent distress, facing extremely high waves. At 1am the Turkish coastguard told us that they were looking for the boat(s). At 1.30am, when we checked with them again, they explained that the weather conditions were rough, but that they continued the search and rescue operation. Other groups, who were also involved in the case, had quite a different experience with the Turkish Coast Guard. They tols us, they had the impression that the Turkish Coastguard was not really cooperating.
At 2am we received the news from two of the contact persons that the Turkish coastguard had rescued the travellers. However, one solidarity group involved in the case, Nawal Soufi's activist collective told us at 2.47am that a boat had capsized and that about 18 persons including many children had died. We tried to reach out to the travellers again, to get the rescue confirmed, but without success. None of the other contact persons had heard about the shipwreck. Only later through a follow-up research we learned that from one boat, several passenger had drowned during the night, while other had been rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard and had been brought to Turkey.
On Tuesday morning and throughout the day, we called the Turkish coastguard to inquire about the rescue operations and the deaths. They told us that they had carried out several rescue operations during the night and in the morning. At 8am local time, they had rescued 12 persons, but several others had died.
Around noon on Tuesday, the media started to report about two shipwrecks and many deaths. According to several sources, 34 or 36 bodies washed ashore at the Aegean Coast, in the district of Ayvalık and the district of Dikili. The media reports did not mention the boat that had capsized during the night, but referred to one or two boats that had left Turkey in direction of Lesvos on early Tuesday morning and that had capsized a few hours later. The media also stated that 12 persons were rescued by the Turkish coastguard from the sea and the rocks near Ayvalık and that the survivors, who were suffering from hypothermia, were brought to a hospital.
In a press conference on Wednesday, the 6th of January a spokesperson of the Turkish government party AKP blamed Greece for the most recent tragedy, claiming that a boat with 55 travellers had capsized after a refoulement through the Greek naval authorities. The Hellenic Coast Guard rejected this claim in an official statement, published the same day. Solidarity groups in Turkey and Greece, however, underlined that the Turkish Coastguard had reacted too late to the alerts sent by Turkish citizens and other solidarity groups.
Credibility: UP DOWN 0
Layers »
  • 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.
  • Coastal radars
    Approximate radar beam range covered by coastal radars operating in the frame of national marine traffic monitoring systems. The actual beam depends from several different parameters (including the type of object to be detected). Data source: Finmeccanica.
  • Exclusive Economic Zone
    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
    Frontex has, in the past few years, carried out several sea operations at the maritime borders of the EU. The blue shapes indicate the approximate extend of these operations. Data source: Migreurop Altas.
  • Mobile phone coverage
    Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network coverage. Data source: Collins Mobile Coverage.
  • Oil and gas platforms
    Oil and gas platforms in the Mediterranean. Data source:
  • 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

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