Greece Defends Shelving Drowning Probe

Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis has denied that Greece is covering up an immigrant drowning incident.

ATHENS – Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis has dismissed criticism from Europe’s top human rights official Greece is covering up an immigrant drowning incident.

Eleven illegal immigrants were killed during a Coast Guard operation in January in which the survivors said the Greek boat was trying to push them back to Turkey.

Despite that, Greece dropped an investigation into what happened. That prompted Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner to write that Greece didn’t want the truth to come out.

“Impunity risks covering these serious human rights violations. This would be a grave mistake,” he wrote. “Greek authorities have to take more resolute efforts to ensure accountability for this tragedy,” he added.

Varvitsiotis said that he read the criticism “with amazement” and could only attribute it to a “lack of information.” He earlier had said the immigrant accounts were not plausible.

“I understand that he is suggesting we proceed with an ‘a la carte’ enforcement of the rule of law,” Varvitsiotis retorted in his statement. He added that Greece’s Coast Guard officials “strive to protect the right to life and safety at sea,” adding that any reports of alleged abusive behavior are investigated by prosecutors.

The immigrants from Afghanistan – eight women and three children – drowned on January 20 while a Greek Coast Guard vessel was towing their boat toward the eastern Aegean island of Farmakonisi.