Guardian angels keep a watchful eye on voyagers sailing the Greek seas

Among the many unsung heroes whose faces never appear on our television screens are the guardian angels of those voyaging upon the Greek seas and who are engaged in a daily struggle to ensure that each person traveling the seas does so in safety. Officers of the Joint Rescue and Coordination Center (EKSED) of the Merchant Marine Ministry are the first to receive a distress signal from a ship in danger and to organize the rescue of passengers and sailors, with not a little aid from modern electronic instruments, seacraft and helicopters. EKSED was involved in 800 incidents during the course of 2003, most of them within Greek waters, which necessitated the full mobilization of all available means. All were successful. The incidents were mostly cases of ships running aground, running into rocks, drifting or sinking as a result of various causes, or the transfer of the sick and injured from small islands to the EKSED center, among others. Last year, 8,259 people in danger at sea for various reasons were rescued. Of these, 7,959 were in Greek waters and 300 outside them. Overall, the figures represent a 20 percent increase over 2002. Also during 2003, EKSED handled 16 search operations to locate missing boats, 35 to locate missing spear fishermen and swimmers, 17 sinkings, 19 cases of ships springing leaks, 48 cases of engine breakdown, 64 cases of ships running aground, seven cases of ships running into rocks, 13 cases of fire at sea, 12 ship collisions, 114 investigations after flares were sent up and 220 other cases. «We have, by now, acquired valuable experience of extreme situations, and with the aid of the ultramodern means we possess, we are justified in declaring ourselves optimistic that during the Olympic Games, Greece’s seas will be the safest in the world,» a high-ranking coast guard officer told Kathimerini. In 2003, there were 145 cases in which a boat either drifted following engine failure or running into rocks, or ran aground due to engine breakdown or human error. The rescue coordination center was obliged to intervene to rescue sailors or passengers from the ships in danger. Very recent cases were those of two cargo vessels: – That of the freighter Elizabeth, which on Christmas Eve ran into the rocky islet of Christiania, off Santorini, following engine failure. The ship listed and was in danger of sinking, endangering the lives of its eight crew members, all foreign nationals. Despite extremely high seas – winds of 10 Beaufort were blowing in the area – EKSED mobilized its forces with the help of a Super Puma helicopter, and the sailors were transferred to safety at the Santorini Health Center. Later, a search of the ship’s hull revealed that the Elizabeth had not been carrying cement as it had officially declared but thousands of boxes of contraband cigarettes which were concealed in its hold. – That of the small tanker Africa, which on December 16, 2003 suffered electrical failure off the island of Hydra and was driven by the waves, whipped to huge heights by 9-Beaufort winds, to just off Milos, where it ran aground on the rocks. Its 13 foreign seamen were lifted off by a Super Puma helicopter.

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