Coast guard chief apologizes in Parl't for Farmakonisi tragedy

Government and opposition politicians clashed in Parliament on Wednesday during a heated debate that accompanied a briefing by coast guard officers on the circumstances surrounding an incident in the Aegean last week that resulted in 12 immigrants being lost at sea.

The session culminated in the head of the coast guard, Vice Admiral Dimitris Bandias, apologizing to the families of the migrants who drowned off the coast of Farmakonisi. “We apologize to the families of the victims but to all Greeks too for the situation that we put them in,” he said. “We did what we could.”

Officers who had been on the coast guard vessel which towed the migrants’ boat told a parliamentary committee that the boat capsized when the passengers moved to one side.

Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis told the House that coast guard officers have orders to “guard the country’s sea borders and save the lives of those at risk at sea,” not to conduct “violent pushbacks and behave inhumanely.” The minister also accused leftist SYRIZA of seeking to exploit the incident for political gain.

Earlier, Varvitsiotis clashed so vehemently with SYRIZA MP Theodoros Dritsas over the government’s immigration policy that the committee president Giorgos Vlachos repeatedly turned off their microphones.

In a related development, the Ombudsman called for an investigation into claims that coast guard officers abused the migrants. The circumstances of the incident are being probed by prosecutors following protests by human rights groups.