Emily O’Reilly, the EU Ombudsman who investigates maladministration and systemic problems, will Wednesday morning launch an investigation into the role of EU border agency Frontex in one of the deadliest shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea.
The investigation will focus on Frontex involvement in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, and seek to clarify events surrounding the Adriana shipwreck off the coast of Greece in June, in which hundreds died.
In the aftermath of the sinking of the Adriana, which was carrying up to 750 migrants to Europe from Libya, conflicting reports emerged as to how much Frontex knew ahead of the tragedy, and what role it played or could have played in preventing it. People briefed on the investigation, who were granted anonymity to reveal details of the case ahead of the announced probe, told POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook that the Ombudsman has asked to see Frontex’s internal “Serious Incident Report,” and is seeking details on how events unfolded during the crucial hours of Adriana’s capsizing and sinking.
Greek authorities have also come under the spotlight after survivors of the tragedy claimed the local coast guard staged a dangerous maneuver in order to steer the overcrowded fishing vessel toward Italy, ultimately causing it to capsize. Survivors have claimed the Greek coast guard’s attempt to tow the vessel led to the shipwreck, and various media accounts have shown the boat was stalled for hours before the coast guard intervened. The tragedy increased pressure on Frontex to end the agency’s operations in Greece due to the country’s lack of cooperation.
O’Reilly will also investigate how information about search and rescue operations is shared between Frontex and national authorities, and whether Frontex has a say on how these operations are designed.
Chris Borowski, a senior public relations officer at Frontex, said the agency “does not coordinate search and rescue operations,” which is the responsibility of national authorities. “Frontex vessels conduct search and rescue operations when called upon,” he added, as well as providing national authorities and rescue centers “with information vital to saving lives.”