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Greek defense team says 9 accused Egyptians misidentified

Lawyers who make up the defense team of nine accused Egyptian men take part in a news conference, in Athens, on Thursday, May 16, 2024   -  
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Petros Giannakouris/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved


The legal defence team for nine Egyptian men due to go on trial in southern Greece next week accused of causing one of the Mediterranean's deadliest shipwrecks said Thursday they will argue Greece has no jurisdiction in the case.

They insisted their clients were innocent survivors who have been unjustly prosecuted.

The nine, whose ages range from early 20s to early 40s, are due to go on trial in the southern city of Kalamata on May 21 on a series of charges, including migrant smuggling, participation in a criminal organization and causing a deadly shipwreck.

They face multiple life sentences if convicted.

The Adriana, a massively overcrowded fishing trawler, had been sailing from Libya to Italy with hundreds of asylum seekers on board when it sank in the early hours of June 14, 2023, in international waters off the southwestern coast of Greece.

The exact number of people on board has never been established, but estimates range from around 500 to more than 700.

Only 104 people survived - all men and boys from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and two Palestinians - and about 80 bodies were recovered.

The vessel sank in one of the Mediterranean's deepest areas, making the recovery of the ship or those trapped on board all but impossible.

Speaking during a news conference in Athens Thursday, the Greek lawyers said all nine defendants had been paying passengers who had been misidentified as crew members by other survivors who gave testimonies under duress just hours after having been rescued.

The nine "are random people that were trafficked, who paid the same amount of money as everyone else to make this trip to Italy for a better life and they are accused of actually being part of the trafficking group with charges of being part of a criminal organization,” said lawyer and defence team member Vicky Aggelidou.

Dimitris Choulis, another lawyer and member of the legal team, said Greek authorities named the defendants as crew members following testimonies by nine other survivors who identified them for having done things as simple as handing bottles of water or pieces of fruit to other passengers.

While the Adriana was sailing in international waters, the area was within Greece's search and rescue zone of responsibility and Greece's coast guard had been shadowing the vessel for a full day without attempting a rescue of those on board.

A patrol boat and at least two merchant ships were in the vicinity when the trawler capsized and sank.

In the aftermath of the sinking, some survivors said the coast guard had been attempting to tow the boat when it sank.

Rights activists have accused Greek authorities of triggering the shipwreck while attempting to tow the boat out of Greece's zone of responsibility.

Greek authorities have rejected accusations of triggering the shipwreck and have insisted the trawler's crew members had refused to accept help from the nearby merchant ships and from the Greek coast guard.

The Egyptians' defence team also argues that as the shipwreck occurred in international waters, Greek courts do not have jurisdiction to try the case, and the defence will move to have the case dismissed on those grounds.

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