Larnaca court on Thursday postponed until early September the trial of three men being tried for smuggling people last November.
Syrians, Maher Ali Bayram, 30, Naser Kasem Ismail, 48, and Lebanese Abdul Sattar Mohammed, 35, deny conspiring to commit a felony, smuggling migrants, transiting third country nationals and taking payment for transport by sea in an unsafe or overloaded vessel.
At the beginning of November last year, an eight metre boat containing 27 people set out from Lebanon, supposedly with Greece as its destination. Somewhere between Cyprus and Lebanon, one of the traffickers, described as the head of the operation, abandoned the vessel in an inflatable boat, leaving the mostly women and children aboard to the mercy of the rough seas and windy conditions.
Early on November 3, the boat ran out of fuel while off the east coast of Cyprus, and one of the people in the boat – now believed to be Mohammed – made a call on his mobile to a friend in Larnaca who in turn notified the authorities.
The Joint Search and Rescue Coordination Centre were already in the area, having launched an operation following reports from the Lebanese authorities concerning a vessel which had left the country illegally.
A helicopter was dispatched to the area at 4.35pm and the vessel was spotted six nautical miles east of Cape Greco near Protaras. A National Guard helicopter and patrol boats joined marine police in the rescue operation. The first rescuers on the scene saw a half-sunk boat and one person in the sea.
The operation brought to safety the 13 children and babies – the youngest just five months old – nine men and four women on board, who were in a poor condition and were immediately transferred to hospital.
The survivors, most from the city of Tartous, told police they had paid $2000 each for the journey, with children charged half that amount.
Lawyer Constantinos Theocharous requested he be allowed to stop representing the three men as he completely disagreed with the way the case was being handled. He said the three had made an appeal to the supreme court against their detention which they subsequently withdrew all without informing him.
Lawyer Panayiotis Hadjipanayitou will now act on behalf of Mohammed, while the other two defendants will be represented by Constantinos Tambourlas.
State prosecutor Thanasis Papathanasiou told the court he expected to present only six witnesses so that the case could be completed as soon as possible.
The defence lawyers did not object to their clients being held in custody until the next hearing which was set for September 8 and 9.