Greece launched manslaughter proceedings today, Thursday, September 28, against five members of the crew of the ferry Express Samina and pledged harsh punishment for anyone found responsible for its sinking.
"The prosecutor has already begun charge proceedings against five people. He would not have done this without any grounds," Merchant Marine Minister Christos Papoutsis said
. "If we find anyone has acted improperly, penalties will be harsh," he said.
The captain and four crewmen were being held on the island of Paros, where the ferry, carrying more than 500 people, struck an islet and sank on Tuesday night. At least 65 people died.
Some witnesses have said members of the Express Samina crew were watching a soccer match on television when the disaster occurred. Questions have been raised about how the ship failed to avoid a well-charted islet with a lighthouse.
Coast Guard officials on Paros said
a public prosecutor from the regional capital on the nearby island of Syros had arrived and begun to press charges of "repeated manslaughter with possible intent" against the five.
The five were named as Vassilis Yannakis, the captain; his number two Tasso Psychoyios; trainee captain Yannis Patilas' radio operator Yannis Tsoumos; and seaman Panayotis Kazakis.
They will be taken to Syros as soon as the weather permits to complete the legal procedures, after which the prosecutor will decide whether to hold them pending trial, a senior Coast Guard official said.
Survivors told of chaotic scenes on the ferry as it listed sharply after hitting the rocks on a stormy night, tipping hundreds of people into the choppy water before breaking apart and sinking.
The death toll rose to 65 early this morning after two bodies were recovered overnight. A total of 448 people were rescued but some are still missing. Between 525 and 530 people were believed to be on the ferry, though exact figures are lacking.
"Whatever details were given on survivors and missing are based on the (owner's) information. But divers have not yet gone into the ship to see if people are trapped. We won't know more until the strong winds die down," Papoutsis said.