Greek minister claims migrant boat sinking survivors changed their account of fatal incident - InfoNews

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Greek minister claims migrant boat sinking survivors changed their account of fatal incident

Survivors of a boat that capsized pray at a makeshift basement mosque in western Athens on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. Twelve people, mostly children, are believed to have perished in Monday's sinking. Only two bodies have been found. Greece's merchant marine minister said Friday the survivors of a fatal migrant boat sinking changed their accounts of the incident, initially saying the Greek Coast Guard saved them but later accusing it of badly mishandling the rescue operation. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
January 24, 2014 - 5:05 AM

ATHENS, Greece - Greece's merchant marine minister said Friday the survivors of a fatal migrant boat sinking changed their accounts of the incident, initially saying the Greek Coast Guard saved them but later accusing it of badly mishandling the rescue operation.

Twelve people, mostly children, are believed to have perished in Monday's sinking. Only two bodies have been found.

The small fishing boat crammed with 28 people had entered Greece illegally from Turkey and the Coast Guard said it was towing the boat to a nearby Greek island when it capsized. The survivors said they were being taken back to Turkish waters.

International rights groups and Greek political parties, including the Socialist minority partner in the country's governing coalition, have called for a full investigation into how the incident was handled by Greek authorities.

Survivors who arrived in Athens Thursday told TV news crews that the Coast Guard crew had ignored their pleas to take the women and children on their boat before the accident, and then allegedly stood by as passengers struggled in rough seas. They said their boat was being led at speed to nearby Turkish waters to be abandoned.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has said the incident "appears to be a case of a failed collective expulsion."

Speaking on Greek public television Friday, Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said the accounts were not the same as those made by survivors to Greek authorities immediately after the sinking.

"In their statements, a father who lost his companion and their four children states clearly that the coast guard saved us. A brother who lost his mother and three brothers states the same," he said, adding that the alleged change in accounts was "striking and curious."

European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, in Athens for an informal meeting of European Union home affairs and justice ministers, pressed Greece to hold an independent investigation.

"It's a terrible loss of life of course," Malmstrom said as she arrived at the meeting, stressing that the details of the accident were still unclear. "I hope there will be an independent investigation to see what happened, who's possibly responsible, to establish all the facts."

News from © The Associated Press, 2014
The Associated Press

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