Clinging to a Rope in the Sea: Desperate Hours for Capsized Greek-Americans

August 25, 2018

A friend on the fishing boat of a Greek-American family that sank off the Oinousses chain of islands near Chios in the eastern Aegean described how they first clung to a piece of rope so they wouldn’t be separated before his grandson tried to swim to the island and vanished, and the boy’s father let go to cling onto a floating pillow but didn’t survive.

The Coast Guard hunted for Giannis Kavafis 22, who went missing and as his sister, Aspasia, 24, who swam after him was found and rescued after being in the waters for hours. The body of Platon Kavafis, 68, was found.

His koumbaro – best man – Giannis Politakis described to Greek media their ordeal and how when the boat first sank several boats passed in the distance, the first the closest, but no one saw them or they could have been saved as the held onto the rope he pulled off the boat as a lifeline.

“The weather was very good We left at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and at 3:25 there was water in the boat, and it suddenly filled with water to our feet. I get a bucket and threw the water out, then another one. As soon as I go on for the third bucket, the boat stood up on its stern. Then the bow. Suddenly the engine goes out. It began to sink and we held on to the rails for about one-and-a-half hours,” he told Alpha TV and reporters from the site www.alithia.gr.

“There was a small rope that covered a distance of about 10 meters … and I give it everyone a small end to hold on to and tell them not to leave the rope for any reason, not that the rope would save us, but at least not to get lost in the sea, to be all together. Fortunately, the rope had, at one end, a balloon, a boat protector, almost like a bottle of water, so small,” he said.

As time passed the worry grew but he urged them to keep holding the rope, hoping a boat would come by in an area frequented by fishermen from Greece and Turkey and in a path where human traffickers send refugees and migrants to Greek islands, including Chios.

He said he untied the rope from the rails for them “So we could hang on to it and not get lost. The boat went under and I told them take the rope and do not leave it. And all four held onto the rope together, “he added.

“At some point my godson left swimming … I called, beside me was Aspasia, ‘Tell him to come back.’ He saw the island was close and tried to swim out there to get help … that’s what I imagined at that time. But we were not near at that time. Because in the beginning we were 0.7 miles close by, but the weather, northwest, for one-and-a-half hourss had probably dropped us two miles, and three … “

He said, “When his sister saw that John was not returning she thought it right to let go of the rope and go after her brother and bring him back,” but neither did, although she was found in the sea at 2 a.m. on Aug. 18, almost 23 hours after the boat sank. No reason was given for how it went under or what caused it.

After a while, he said the father let go of the rope for the floating pillow and was clinging to it. There was no report on whether there were lifejackets on the boat. When the pillow didn’t work anymore, Kavafis called to him for help.

“He told me do not leave me, do not leave me. Bring me the rope. He had gone over 50 meters away from me. I tried to go after him. I saw that it was impossible to go near him and I could not give him the rope anymore,” he said anymore, the tragedy before his eyes.

Politakis said, “For14 hours and I was fighting in the sea … I was trying and wherever the weather would take me, I saw that it was going ok, that it would take me somewhere, even to Turkey. And I was going to, I was trying, I swam to go faster because the weather was pushing me. “

Three port authorities boats, a ship of the Greek Navy, three private boats and two helicopters of the Greek Air Force joined in the search effort. The two rescued Greek-Americans were transferred to the hospital in Chios.

The Coast Guard said that, “A wide search and rescue operation was conducted for missing persons after the sinking of a fishing vessel south of Oinousse, Chios.

The Rescue Coordination Center launched a large search and rescue operation to find the three missing people, rescuing two, media reports from the state ANA news agency said.

A preliminary investigation was carried out by the Chios Central Port Authority and no incident of marine pollution was observed, officials said.


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