Frontex statements, reactions, initiatives on the Pylos shipwreck (official statements, tweets, media reports, LIBE, etc)

In this post, we gather Frontex statements, reactions, initiatives, etc, on the Pylos shipwreck (official statements + media reports)

1) Frontex tweet (2023-06-14)

An initial version of this tweet, had the phrase “All questions should be directed to the Greek Rescue Coordination Centre”.

This content was widely reported in greek media (1, 2, 3, 4). This phrase is now deleted.

2) Frontex Executive Director Hans Leijtens’s tweet (2023-06-15)

3) Frontex chief: Greek authorities ‘did their upmost to save lives’ (Kathimerini, 15.06.2023, 19:53)

The head of the EU border agency Frontex has said the Greek authorities “did their upmost to save lives” in Wednesday’s sinking of a ship crammed with migrants that went down off the coast of Pylos, in the Peloponnese.

Speaking from the nearby city of Kalamata, Frontex Executive Director Hans Leijtens said the sinking was “a horrible incident, any way you look at it.”

His “heart is with the victims and their families,” he said.

“I’m also here to have a better understanding of what happened because we also, as Frontex, played a role in it.”

He added that he was in Greece to “to show my solidarity and my help to the Hellenic Police, who did their upmost to save lives.”

Rescuers continued to scour the seas on Thursday following the shipwreck, which killed at least 78 migrants, as hopes of survivors dwindled and fears grew that hundreds more, including children, may have drowned inside the crowded vessel’s hold.

Reports suggested between 400 and 750 people had packed the fishing boat that departed the Libyan port of Tobruk and capsized and sank early on Wednesday morning in deep waters about 80 km from the southern coastal town of Pylos. Authorities said 104 survivors had been brought ashore. [Kathimerini/Reuters]

4) Frontex statement following tragic shipwreck off Pylos (2023-06-16)

We are shocked and saddened by the tragic events that unfolded off the coast of Greece. The Frontex Executive Director, who travelled to Greece after learning about the tragedy, has offered any support the authorities may need.

People smugglers have once again trifled with human lives by forcing several hundred migrants on a fishing boat not designed to fit such a number of people. Many were trapped underneath the deck. Our thoughts go out to the families of the victims. 

On 13 June before noon (09:47 UTC), a Frontex plane spotted the fishing vessel inside the Greek search and rescue region in international waters. The ship was heavily overcrowded and was navigating at slow speed (6 knots) direction north-east.

Frontex immediately informed the Greek and Italian authorities about the sighting, providing them with information about the condition of the vessel, speed and photos. 

The plane kept monitoring the vessel, constantly providing updates to all relevant national authorities until it ran out of fuel and had to return to base.

As a Frontex drone was to patrol the Aegean on the same day, the agency offered to provide additional assistance ahead of the planned and scheduled flight. The Greek authorities asked the agency to send the drone to another search and rescue incident south off Crete with 80 people in danger.

The drone, after attending to the incident south off Crete, flew to the last known position of the fishing vessel. The drone arrived at the scene four hours later at 04:05 (UTC) in the morning, when a large-scale search and rescue operation by Greek authorities was ongoing and there was no sign of the fishing boat. No Frontex plane or boat was present at the time of the tragedy. 

5) EU border agency to scrutinize events leading to Greek migrant shipwreck [By Jacopo Barigazzi for (June 22, 2023 10:00 pm CET)]

The EU Border and Coast Guard Agency will compile a report on the capsized boat carrying migrants off the coast of Greece, which resulted in the deaths of potentially hundreds in one of the worst shipwrecks in Europe in a decade. 

The agency, known as Frontex, initiated a “serious incident report” (SIR) on Thursday, requiring the agency’s fundamental rights officers to record potential human rights violations, an agency spokesperson told POLITICO. 

While the process is not an investigation — Frontex does not have the ability to investigate incidents — the report allows the agency to gather all available details surrounding the fatal incident. The report can then be shared with investigative bodies or be part of recommendations to other bodies, such as the European Parliament.

Read the whole text here:

6) Greece didn’t reply to offer of aircraft from EU border agency before migrant tragedy [By Nektaria Stamouli for (June 23, 2023 4:08 pm CET)]

ATHENS — The EU Border and Coast Guard Agency says it received no reply from Greece last week after it offered to send a plane to monitor an overcrowded fishing boat that ultimately sank, with a loss of life that is feared to run into the hundreds.

The communication gap is a sign of heightened tension between the EU agency, known as Frontex, and Athens, over the role that each party played in a tragedy that looks liable to go down as the worst shipwreck of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

A spokesperson for Frontex told POLITICO that after initially detecting the vessel and notifying the Greek and Italian authorities, it offered to provide additional assistance, including dispatching an aircraft from Italy, but the Greek coast guard never replied.

When asked about this lack of response, the Greek coast guard said it did not want to comment “regarding details of the operational planning.”

The Hellenic Coast Guard is facing increasing questions over its response to the fatal wreck, which happened some 80 kilometers off Pylos in the Peloponnese. Eighty-two bodies have been gathered and 104 people were rescued, but the U.N.’s refugee and migration agencies warn that as many as 400 to 750 migrants were taking the boat on the hazardous crossing from eastern Libya.

Much controversy centers on whether the Greek coast guard acted improperly by acquiescing with people smugglers, who they said had refused assistance and had wanted to be allowed to sail the unstable boat on to Italy. International lawyers have argued that a rescue must not depend on what the smugglers crewing the vessel want.

A Frontex aircraft first spotted the fishing vessel inside Greece’s search and rescue zone in international waters on June 13 and notified the Greek and Italian authorities. The aircraft, deployed by Frontex from Italy, kept monitoring the vessel until it ran out of fuel and had to return to base.

Frontex deployed two aircraft to Greece, a drone and a plane, but neither was involved in this operation. The agency offered to fly the drone over the overcrowded vessel, but the Greek authorities asked it to attend another search and rescue operation south of Crete, where 80 people were in danger, according to a statement issued by the agency.

Frontex then offered to send back the aircraft from Italy, after refueling, but the Greek authorities never replied.

Read the whole text here:

7) Frontex threatens to suspend its activities in Greece [By Philippe Jacqué (Brussels (Belgium) correpondent), Marina Rafenberg (Athens (Greece) correspondent) and Julia Pascual for Le Monde. Published on June 26, 2023, at 3:40 am (Paris), updated on June 26, 2023, at 10:02 am].

Has the breaking point been reached between European agency Frontex and Greece? Le Monde has learned that less than 10 days after a trawler full of migrants sank off Pylos in the Ionian Sea, killing several hundred people, the agency is seriously considering suspending its activities in the country.

At Frontex’s board meeting in Warsaw, on June 20-21, Jonas Grimheden, the head of the Fundamental Rights Office – whose teams are mandated with monitoring Frontex’s implementation of its fundamental rights obligations under European Union and international law – advocated such a decision. A suspension could be based on Article 46 of the agency’s regulations, which applies to “violations of fundamental rights or international protection obligations that are of a serious nature or are likely to persist.”

It was on the basis of this recommendation, itself backed up by a report presented to the management board, that Frontex’s executive director “called Greece to account,” reported a source close to the agency. “It’s not the first time that the head of Fundamental Rights has made this kind of recommendation, but it’s the first time that the agency has really taken his opinion into account,” a diplomatic source said. “It’s unprecedented. Given what happened [on June 13], the agency feels obliged to react.”

8) Exchange of views on the migrant boat shipwreck off the coast of Greece (July 6, 2023)

MEPs of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) discuss with Ylva JOHANSSON, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, and Hans LEIJTENS, Frontex’s Executive director, about the migrant boat shipwreck off the coastal town of Pylos (Greece), where on June 14 at least 79 migrants drowned and hundreds more were missing.

EP Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs: exchange of views on the migrant boat shipwreck off the coast of Greece, with the participation of Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner 

LIBE Committee – Exchange of views on the migrant boat shipwreck off the coast of Greece (SOS Hans Leijtens 18:18 and 28:23).

More to read:

The Fundamental Rights Officer – ANNUAL REPORT 2022.