Masked man on board of Greek Coast Guard ship involved in counterattack-bellingcat

2021-11-24 03:04:22 By : Mr. Bruce Liao

Bashar Deeb is an open source investigative reporter working with Lighthouse Reports. He previously worked as a freelancer in the Bureau of Investigative News and was a member of the #ItalianArms project research team. Leone Hadavi is an open source investigator and analyst. He holds a master's degree in international humanitarian law and criminal law of international armed conflicts. He has served as an analyst intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Special Court of Cambodia (ECCC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Twitter: @leone_hadavi,

In recent months, there have been disturbing reports of unidentified masked men harassing or attacking asylum seekers in a boat in the Aegean Sea on a high-speed transmitter. Witness testimony collected from multiple sources described a series of incidents when these boats, known as rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB), approached ships carrying boys, girls and children in the waters between Turkey and Greece, or drove them back. Or intimidate them or take their engines, sometimes violently. 

These reports appear to be part of a broader model of so-called counterattack at sea, which violates national and international law.

So far, it has not been possible to determine where the launch came from or who the masked person driving them might be. Video evidence from the events of June 4 may be critical to answering these questions. 

We focused on this video, which was shot on June 4 and released at 1:50 pm Greek time on the same day, showing a masked man on the RHIB next to the boat. One of the masked men boarded the RHIB and quickly moved away from the immigrants on the boat. Our goal is to identify the people involved in the action.

In view of the poor quality of the lens, there is no obvious identifying name and number on the ship, the attacker was wearing non-standard clothes, and the person holding the phone only stared at RHIB briefly (probably because they were afraid of being discovered), the materials that can be used limited. 

Regardless of restrictions, RHIB remains the clearest evidence in this incident so far, and an opportunity to understand who the alleged attackers are and whether they are associated with any organization. The Greek government denied participating in the boycott. 

When granted the right of reply, a spokesperson for the Greek Coast Guard stated that "Under any circumstances, Coast Guard officials will not wear a full face mask when performing their duties." For a long time, the identity of the masked men who attacked the refugee boats has been a mystery, and some have speculated that they may belong to right-wing groups or criminal gangs.

We used a series of tests to try to identify the RHIB used in the June 4th incident. The first test is to determine whether this particular type of RHIB is operated by the Greek Coast Guard (HCG). The second and third tests focused on certain external features of the ship, which is the key to distinguish it from other similar ships. In the final test, we determined whether the functionality revealed by the previous test was consistent over time, or whether RHIB has been changed or upgraded.

The following article is part of an investigation into the illegal response by Lighthouse Reports, ARD, and Der Spiegel.

Verification of incidents involving immigration dinghy

When verifying the involvement of the immigrants on the boat, we first used social media resources. "Alert Phone", an independent organization that provides a hotline for migrants in distress at sea, said on Twitter that they lost contact with the group involved in the June 4 incident at 3 pm, and later confirmed that the group had been rescued at 7 pm. Turkish Coast Guard (TCG). 

The next day, TCG posted an update on their website, claiming that 51 migrants were rescued near the coast of the Ayvacık district of Canakkale. The time provided by TCG is inconsistent with the time provided by Alarm Phone. However, we have confirmed that the ship picked up by TCG is the same as the green and white ship depicted in the June 4 video above. We have determined that a person appears to be wearing a blue jacket, similar to the person in the incident video.

The Turkish Coast Guard’s ship appears to match the one in the June 4th video (source)

In the background of the photo illustrating the TCG rescue operation, we see the coast of Babakale. This indicates that this is the location of the boat, and that it is likely to sail to the northwestern part of Lesvos before being intercepted.

Top: Babakale (provided by Google/Basarsoft/Copernicus) Bottom: Coastline see TCG image 

Identify the RHIB participating in the June 4th event

RHIB composite image taken on June 4

We can see that the color of RHIB is light gray and there are two metal structures on the back: a smaller pyramid shape (visible on the upper right side of the image) and a larger shape with a radar installed (white disk; the bottom is marked in yellow) ). RHIB is powered by two black engines (marked in red in the picture below).

Note the obvious radar marked in yellow and the two engines marked in red

The man on the RHIB involved wore irregular clothes. The faces of all four people are covered or partially covered.

The man seen in the video on RHIB on June 4

The combination of dark clothes, military uniforms, and what appears to be diving equipment indicates that these people-they are not heard throughout the video-intend to conceal their identities and origins.

The clothing worn by the fourth person in the picture above seems to be similar to the standard clothing of the Greek Coast Guard, as shown in the picture below.

The ship in question appears to be made by Lambro Boats (now Motomarine), whose clients include the Greek Coast Guard.

Although RHIB’s equipment is fairly standard, the pyramid-shaped metal structure installed on its deck is unique to this particular class of ship: it is used to facilitate the deployment of RHIB into the water from its mothership.

We have observed that this RHIB model seems to only be able to operate on the Sa'ar 4.5-class maritime patrol vessel (OPV) designed by Israel, of which there are 3 ships in the HCG fleet. This type of ship has a crane installed at its stern and can deploy two RHIBs, one on each side. Of all the HCG patrol ships observed, the three Sa'ar OPVs are the only ones equipped with tail cranes, which deploy RHIB by hooking the pyramids. Although OPV ΛΣ-050 ​​ uses cranes to deploy its RHIB, it does not seem to use this pyramid, but instead uses straps connected to the RHIB. At the same time, ΛΣ-090 deployed its fast RHIB using slides.

As the observed evidence and specialized analysis indicate, each Sa'ar OPV carries two RHIBs: one gray, which is mainly used for pursuit, and one orange, which is used for search and rescue (SAR) operations.

The three OPVs operated by the Greek Coast Guard operating these RHIBs are ΛΣ-060, ΛΣ-070 and ΛΣ-080.

It can be observed that the mothership’s name is printed on both sides of the bow of RHIBs, as shown in these views of RHIBs ΛΣ-070 and ΛΣ-080:

However, ΛΣ-060 has been observed, but neither party has discovered its name.

ΛΣ-060 Left May 14, 2019

ΛΣ-060 Right September 24, 2018

This initially indicated that the RHIB visible in the June 4th video may be ΛΣ-060. However, precisely because a particular RHIB does not have any identifying name on its left side, we focus on other elements to determine its identity.

The above video shows that there is no name or number on the left bow of the RHIB involved; however, it does seem that a blue stripe can be seen. After editing the contrast of the frame, this streak becomes more noticeable (below). The position of this stripe is consistent with other RHIBs of the same type, that is, on the side, between the deck and the bow.

Although the line of sight is blocked, the presence and position of this stripe are consistent with other RHIBs of the same model used with HCG.

The RHIB seen in the video has a metal strip above the windshield.

We observed that among the three RHIBs currently used with HCG's Sa'ar OPV, RHIB ΛΣ-070 and ΛΣ-080 do not have metal rods installed above their windshields.

By applying the second test, we can infer that the RHIB involved in the incident recorded in the June 4 video is not only serving in the HCG, but is likely to be the third RHIB of the same type, ΛΣ-060.

The RHIB in question has two small fenders tied to the radar arch.

Neither ΛΣ-070 nor ΛΣ-080 has been observed to have two small fenders installed on the sides of their radar arches.

The third test also showed that the RHIB involved in the June 4th incident may be RHIB ΛΣ-060.

In order for this evidence to be relevant to the case under review, it is necessary to verify that the external features we used to determine the identity of the different ships were still valid at the time of the incident.

During the exercise "Poseidon 2018", HCG allegedly deployed OPV ΛΣ-080 and RHIB ΛΣ-080. As shown in the picture below, RHIB was found to have a newer black rope on the right, which replaced the old gray rope used in 2014. Below the rope is a light blue thread running along both sides, and black rubber on top of the newer layer.

Top picture: RHIB ΛΣ-080, September 26, 2018, bottom picture: RHIB ΛΣ-080, June 13, 2014

At the same time, in this article dated May 15, 2019, RHIB ΛΣ-070 was found on top of its mothership, and any recent changes can be checked.

Please note that the RHIB ΛΣ-070 taken above is in good condition. After searching for the latest available lenses and images, we can conclude that between September 2018 and May 2019, all three RHIBs went through some degree of maintenance. 

In the comparison below, the 2019 photo of RHIB ΛΣ-070 shows that the new rails are installed on both sides of the ship to install the ropes. Compared with 2018, the overall look is much less worn. In addition, its name and HCG logo have been repainted, no beams have been added to the windshield, and there are no mudguards on the radar arches.

RHIB ΛΣ-060 was discovered in a religious event in the port of Piraeus in May 2019. This time we can say unequivocally that the ship we saw is RHIB ΛΣ-060, because as part of its recent update process, the ship’s number can now be seen almost on the right side of the bow.

In addition, it can be confirmed that the metal strip on the windshield has not been removed, and the same happened with the HCG color on the left. The view of the radar arch and the left side of the RHIBs is not very clear, which requires additional research. 

Another video on the same day depicts RHIB ΛΣ-060 from the left.

The missing name indicates that although the RHIB has undergone an update, the RHIB name has not yet been provided on the left side. 

The video also reveals another important factor: the rope on the left was also unaffected by the maintenance process. These ropes do not appear new black like ΛΣ-070, nor do they have blue lines above the thick black rubber layer like ΛΣ-080. On the contrary, these ropes are gray, shabby, and tied to the loop on the side of ΛΣ-060, just like the RHIB seen in the June 4th video.

Top picture: ΛΣ-060, bottom picture: RHIB in the June 4th incident

In the end, RHIB ΛΣ-060 was last spotted in September 2019, and it was allegedly patrolled off the coast of Mytilene on OPV ΛΣ-060. An overview of the stern of the RHIB shows that there are indeed two small fenders tied to the sides of the radar arch.

On June 4, 2020, after the incident, an eyewitness from Lesvos took a picture of a ship near the coast of Lesvos at 5:04 pm. The ship in the photo appeared to be a Saar class. OPV, but we cannot distinguish its name. One hour later, in the port of Mytilene, the same source reportedly discovered that OPV ΛΣ-080 was docked at the port.

In the undisclosed footage, an unnamed source spotted and photographed OPV ΛΣ-080 while docking at Mytilene Port on June 9. RHIB ΛΣ-060 is loaded on its stern.

Although the name cannot be clearly read from the right side, its identity can be determined by looking at some unique features that its sister RHIB does not have. These features can be seen at the RHIB participating in June. Event 4: Two small fenders tied to the radar On the arch, the metal strip is above the windshield, and the gray rope is tied in the middle.

There is evidence that RHIB ΛΣ-060 has been using OPV ΛΣ-080 since at least May 2020.

RHIB ΛΣ-060 started OPV ΛΣ-080. May 5, 2020

In another counterattack incident, also from June 4, a 17-year-old Afghan refugee shared two videos showing him and other refugees on a struggling boat. The video was posted on the Facebook group of volunteers on Lesvos. The immigrants claimed that they had been attacked by HCG earlier and begged people to rescue them on the Internet. In one of the videos, we saw HCG OPV ΛΣ-080 passing by them, allegedly making waves to push them back to Turkey.

At its stern, something that seems to be RHIB ΛΣ-060 can be found, which can be identified by the mudguard on the radar arch.

The video appears to be consistent with the northeastern part of Lesvos, close to the small islands of Aspronisia, Tsoukalas and Aspri Plakouda. The boat in the video was eventually rescued by the German NATO ship "Berlin" and taken to the Palios coast three kilometers north of the island. These videos show that ΛΣ-080 was operating in the northern part of Lesvos that day.

From the geographical location of these two migrant boats (the first one, the masked people participated in it, the second one, which was finally rescued by the NATO ship), it can be claimed that OPV ΛΣ-080 was located. Both incidents occurred on June 4th. . 

The investigation started by analyzing the videos of masked men, focusing on the RHIB operations they filmed. That very unique ship shows that the Greek Coast Guard was involved in this incident. It has unique features-such as the metal pyramid structure on the deck, which is a key feature of this type of RHIB, which can be deployed by an OPV of HCG by crane-and the HCG logo visible on its side. 

Subsequently, to run a specific category of OPV among the three possible RHIBs, the research must identify one RHIB in the video. In order to do this, we developed a test that narrowed all possibilities to one ship and one mother ship based on the characteristics we were able to distinguish from the video. 

The "rod test" and "fender test" played a role in identifying the RHIB ΛΣ-060, because it is the only one of the three RHIBs with metal rods on the windshield and mudguards on both sides of the radar arch RHIB of the board. Through the application of the time test, we compared the RHIB shown in the June 4th video with the latest pictures of the three RHIBs. 

This shows that all RHIBs have recently undergone an update process, but retain the unique features of RHIB ΛΣ-060, while the appearance of the other two RHIBs has been upgraded. RHIB ΛΣ-060 retains its anomalous features, such as the gray rope tied to the loops glued to both sides of it, its metal rods and fenders.

After confirming that RHIB ΛΣ-060 is the one visible in the June 4th video and it has been using OPV ΛΣ-080 since at least May 2020, we asked another person who tried to prove that OPV ΛΣ-080 is running. The video of the tweet was geolocated on North Lesvos on the same day, and we confirmed it was carrying RHIB ΛΣ-060. In addition, we have strengthened this connection by showing the RHIB ΛΣ-060 lens on the OPV ΛΣ-080 in the Port of Mytilene a few days after the incident.

The survey was jointly conducted by Leone Hadavi and Bashar Deeb

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