By George Psyllides
Three men, two Syrians aged 47 and 33, and a 28-year-old from Lebanon, were remanded in custody for eight days on Monday in connection with people smuggling, after authorities rescued 115 refugees – including the suspects – from a fishing vessel that sent a distress signal on Saturday evening while sailing some 74 kilometres off the coast of Larnaca.
The court heard that the rescued refugees, including 19 women, 30 children and five infants, were Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon.
Seeking a better future away from war-torn Syria, they paid around $3.500 (€3.200) each to be taken to Europe.
They were transported to Tripoli, Lebanon, from various places, and from there they were carried to the vessel they were rescued from in two smaller boats.
One of the refugees recognised the suspects and pointed them out to police. The witness said the 28-year-old was the vessel’s captain and the other two were the navigators of the smaller boats that carried them to the vessel from Tripoli.
The witness showed police video and photos he took using his mobile phone of the 28-year-old navigating the vessel.
The man said members of the smuggling ring had banned them from carrying documents proving their identity, mobile phones, and cameras.
The suspects were questioned at Larnaca CID on Sunday. Officers found a copy of a document, which named the 28-year-old as the owner of the vessel. The 47-year-old was carrying a piece of paper with notes in Arabic and coordinates. The third suspect was located by rescue crews in the vessel’s hold where he was hiding.
He claimed he had nothing to do with the case and that he wanted to go to Germany.
The 47-year-old gave police the same story, claiming that he had also paid to be taken to an EU country.
The 28-year-old also denied involvement, claiming that the 47-year-old was the boat’s captain.
The 47-year-old had to be rushed to hospital after he fainted during his arrival at the court.
He was examined by doctors who found nothing wrong and was sent back to court where he joined the other two suspects in the dock. He was allowed to sit throughout the procedure.
The suspects did not object to their remand.
The vessel has been towed to the Mari naval base where police officers collected trace evidence.
The refugees had been travelling for three days and were on their way to Greece when the engine reportedly broke down.
The refugees disembarked at Larnaca port and were given food, water and medical attention. None needed hospitalisation.
By George Psyllides