A Year After Deadly Shipwreck, Survivors and Families Seek Answers and Closure

A Year After Deadly Shipwreck, Survivors and Families Seek Answers and Closure

Athens - Egyptian electrician Mahmoud Shalabi was the sole survivor from his hometown when a fishing trawler, packed with migrants, capsized off Greece a year ago, resulting in one of the Mediterranean's deadliest boat disasters. Sixteen of Shalabi's neighbors were never found. Their families call him daily, hoping for news about their loved ones.

"No one is accepting that they might be dead," said Shalabi in an interview in Athens, where the 23-year-old does odd jobs while awaiting asylum. "Families are tortured every day, not knowing anything about their son, brother, or father."

The June 14 disaster off southwestern Greece raised questions about the EU's migrant policies. The boat, departing from Libya, capsized, killing hundreds. Despite the tragedy's magnitude, no independent investigation into the coast guard's role has been completed, and no accountability has been established, according to survivors, relatives, and lawyers.

The Greek coast guard declined to comment. Shipping Minister Christos Stylianides emphasized patience, stating that the courts would uncover the truth in time.

Survivors allege the coast guard caused the boat to capsize during a towing attempt, while authorities claim the boat refused assistance. A coast guard report suggested that the boat likely tipped due to onboard movement.

Greece's coast guard monitored the migrant ship on June 13 and responded to its distress calls late at night. The ship sank three hours after the coast guard's arrival. Shalabi, asleep below deck, awoke to screams as the boat took on water, escaping to a surface crowded with floating corpses.

Approximately 700 people were onboard; 104 survived, and 82 bodies were recovered. The search for additional survivors proved unsuccessful. Initially, Greek authorities blamed nine Egyptians on board, but a Greek court dismissed the case last month, shifting the investigation focus to the coast guard.

A local naval court's investigation remains in preliminary stages, and Greece's ombudsman launched a probe after the coast guard rejected calls for an internal investigation. Eleni Spathana, a lawyer for survivors suing Greek authorities, stated that critical questions about the coast guard's actions remain unanswered.

In Jordan's Azraq refugee camp, Fatima Al-Rahil lives with her five children, awaiting news of her husband Ihsaan, who set off for Europe last year. Fatima last heard from him on June 9 when the boat left Libya. Ihsaan, who couldn’t swim, carried a car tire for buoyancy, but armed smugglers discarded his belongings.

Fatima sent a DNA sample to Greece, but no match was found among the deceased. Clinging to hope, Fatima imagines a fisherman might have found Ihsaan. His children dream of him, bringing gifts.

"We're still living on hope, even if it's just 1%," she said. "Maybe he went to heaven. But we're still here. We are the victims."

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