Ferry charges diluted

Nearly two years after a maritime tragedy that cost the lives of 80 people and shook Greece, a council of judges has ruled that six crew members should stand trial on misdemeanor charges, not the original felony charges. Relatives of victims expressed outrage and said they would go to the Supreme Court to appeal against the ruling, which also found that officials of the shipping company were not responsible. The Express Samina sank off Paros in a storm on the night of September 26, 2000, after it hit an islet just outside the port. Captain Vassilis Yiannakis and First Mate Anastassios Psychogios spent 16 months in pretrial detention, facing multiple counts of murder with possible malice (a felony) and causing a shipwreck. Last June, public prosecutor Napoleon Pantioras reported to the Aegean Council of Appeals Court Judges that the sinking resulted from the criminal negligence, incompetence and gross indifference of six crew members. But he found no malice. It emerged yesterday, following a report in the daily Ethnos, that the charges had been converted from felonies to misdemeanors, meaning that a conviction will lead to a sentence of less than five years and the option of paying money instead of serving time. The council also decided that Minoan Flying Dolphins, the ferry company, board chairman Costas Klironomos and board member Nikos Vikatos should not stand trial. Pantioras had proposed that they and two inspectors should face misdemeanor charges for falsely stating that the ship had sufficient life jackets. The judges found that the 34-year-old ship was seaworthy and that it had enough lifeboats and life vests but that they were old and in poor condition. The captain, first mate and officers Giorgos Triandafyllos and Gerasimos Skiadaresis are charged with negligence leading to the sinking of the ship and the loss of 80 lives. Capt. Yiannakis allegedly did not ensure that there was a crewman continually serving as lookout, he did not take charge himself in the face of danger, had not ordered regular emergency exercises, had not sounded a general alarm and had not shown passengers how to don life vests. First Mate Psychogios is charged with (among other things) showing complete indifference, not having a lookout and being absent for more than 25 minutes at a critical time. A Piraeus prosecutor is to examine how inspectors approved the ship’s lifesaving equipment.