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23 Alleged Human Traffickers Arrested in Greece and Pakistan Over Med Fishing Boat Disaster.

The lethal fishing boat photographed by the Greek Coast Guard shortly before it sank.

By Editor, June 19th, 2023.

Nine Egyptian men have been accused of causing the fishing boat Andrianna sinking disaster last week when an overloaded vessel carrying hundreds of people sank off the Greek coast have appeared in court in Greece and pleaded not guilty.

Meanwhile 14 men have been arrested in Pakistan.

The nine suspects – all aged between 20 and 40 – are accused of people-smuggling and other offences.

Libya’s ongoing crisis alongside instability in neighboring countries, has allowed a large people-smuggling business to develop, making Libya a hub for moving migrants and refugees across the Mediterranean into Europe.

The North Africa to Italy sea route for migrants and refugees seeking to get to Europe has been declared the deadliest on Earth by the International Organization for Migration, which has recorded 21,000 deaths since 2014.

Human smugglers crowd migrants into unseaworthy vessels, often in locked holds for days-long journeys. They head for Italy, across the sea from Libya, as it is closer to Western Europe than Greece.

At least 78 migrants are known to have died in the disaster but many more are feared to have drowned as the boat capsized with an unknown number of people locked in below decks, who would not have been able to escape from the sinking ship.

The survivors are believed to have been on the decks and able to jump from the sinking ship and swim to safety on nearby boats and coastguard vessels. None had lifejackets.

The UN’s human rights office says that up to 500 people are still missing.

Analysis of the movement of other ships in the area suggests the overcrowded fishing vessel was not moving for at least seven hours before it capsized. But the coastguard still claims that during these hours the boat was on a course to Italy and not in need of rescue.

Greek officials maintain those on board said they did not want help and were not in danger until just before their boat sank.

The nine suspects all appeared at the Kalamata Court on Monday to face charges of negligent manslaughter, exposing lives to danger, causing a shipwreck and human trafficking.

Alexandros Dimaresis, a lawyer for one of the accused, said that his client was innocent and “paid the smugglers to be taken to Europe”.

“He is not a smuggler himself. He was just a passenger,” Mr Dimaresis said outside court.

The suspects will be back in court on Tuesday, when it will be decided whether they will remain in jail until the start of the trial.

Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities have arrested 14 people in connection with the alleged trafficking of several migrants who drowned in the disaster.

The government in Islamabad has ordered a high-level inquiry to investigate the human trafficking network thought to be involved, a statement from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s office said.

At least 21 of those who are missing came from the Kotli district in Pakistan’s part of the Himalayan Kashmir region, police said. Two of the 12 Pakistanis who survived the sinking also came from the same town.

Since the fishing boat carrying up to 750 people went down 50 nautical miles off Pylos in southern Greece, the role of the coastguard has come under increasing scrutiny.

The UN has called for an investigation into Greece’s handling of the disaster, amid claims more action should have been taken earlier to initiate a full-scale rescue attempt.

Under the previous conservative government, Greek authorities took a hard stance on migration, raising border controls, and often turning away boats laden with migrants and refugees.

Sources: BBC, news agencies, Greek coastguard, Wikipedia.