Letter from Athens: In Greece, Better Pay the Ferryman to Reach the Other Side

By the time you finish reading this column, the scandalous case of a Greek ferry crew member – still unnamed – pushing 36-year-old Antonis Karyotis off the back of a ramp to drown before walking away calmly will have been forgotten.

That’s because politicians rightly count on the docility, and imbecility of voters, whose attention spans – especially now in the age of social media, instant gratification and insatiability for bad news – has them moving to the next story.

Besides the obvious tragedy of what a video showed was the crew member not once, not twice, but three times pushing back Karyotis as he jumped onto the ramp after inexplicably leaving the vessel, there were also departure violations.

The Blue Horizon ferry captain left with the ramp down – a common occurrence in Greece, especially when students who want to pilot vessels can get into the university teaching maritime courses with failing grades.

And when notified there was a man in the water, he kept right on going on the voyage from Piraeus to Crete as Karyotis, sucked under the wake of the ship that should have shut down its engines on the spot, floated behind him.

If not for mobile phone cameras and social media, this killing would have been covered up, and it might essentially be yet with the crew member and Captain facing charges, but two other crew members already released.

This is how it goes in Greece with these cases: there’s immediate outrage, cries for justice, protests, denunciations of incompetence, and railing against the state and public officials whose only interest is cashing big paychecks.

Then, a few days or so go by and there’s another tragedy – who remembers the stabbing death of Michalis Katsouris, 29, during a brawl between Greek and Croatian soccer hooligans? That was a month before and already forgotten.

So too will Karyotis and when – or if – the Captain and crew member are taken to a trial, which defendants in Greece don’t have to attend and lawyers can delay cases for years without penalties from judges who don’t want to work – the sentences will be lenient or circumstances will be found for acquittal.

Just now – six years after they were hit by a speeding car on Crete and thrown the length of a football field to their deaths, the tragedy of the two university student victims was worsened.

A court found the driver guilty but let him avoid jail by paying off the sentence of six years and 9 months – that was on paper only – Kathimerini noting that he had been released almost as soon as he was arrested.

He will stay free after being ordered to pay a fine of 25,515 euros ($27,338) – to the state for someone to steal, not to the families. No names were given, of course, to protect the guilty.

He can do it on installments, maybe use a credit card to pay for what was essentially murder, and for which people in Greece can get away with all the time, as will in the case of Karyotis – who had a ticket to board.

The crew member who pushed him had a good defense for Greece though, saying he thought that the victim, who was a regular passenger on the ferry, “was black, Pakistani,” which meant he wasn’t human apparently.

This kind of story will happen again, almost certainly, followed by the pattern in which the words “never again” will be uttered, the perpetrators walking, the crime excused, and citizens looking to athletes to find a hero or forget their lives.

Just a few months ago, a fishing vessel packed with 700 or so refugees went down in international waters near Greece, survivors saying the Greek Coast Guard caused it to capsize by trying to attach a rope to move it further away from the country.

There was, you know, an investigation said to be ordered, but since they’re all secret in Greece there’s no way of knowing if that’s just a lie too, and there’s an – ye , you guessed it – investigation going into the death of Karyotis.

Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, the man who was Shipping Minister, called for that, but before he finished the sentence had to resign after expressing sympathy – for the families of those accused.

There wasn’t a Coast Guard officer present as allegedly required when the ferry left Piraeus, the country’s busiest port, but there were people with cell phones and others walking by watching the Dead Man’s Float.

None of them jumped in, reminiscent of the late comic Sam Kinison saying he watched a TV report of children starving in Africa and wondering, “the film crew could give this kid a sandwich.”

Someone – perhaps a Coast Guard officer or the man who pushed Karyotis to his death – could have perhaps thrown him a life preserver or done something other than watch his body bobbing.

Staging a 24-hour strike to show solidarity with Karyotis’ family, Greece’s sailors union PNO said it showed there are also safety problems and that passengers are at risk on Greek ferries, which carry a lot of tourists.

“Sadly, once again, it has been ascertained that the improper enforcement of laws and regulations regarding shipping and port security can, and do, lead to disastrous results,” said the union, urging authorities to take “all the necessary measures” to protect human life at sea.

Tickets, please.


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