The chief executive officer of Greece’s Attica Group and the port master of Piraeus lost their jobs after the callous treatment of a passenger that caused him to drown on Tuesday.
Attica’s management board accepted the resignation of Spyridon Paschalis, the company said in a statement on Thursday.
Just a few hours later, Greek shipping minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis — who has been in hot water over the incident that media have described as “cold-blooded murder” — announced the sacking of the port master of Piraeus and another senior coastguard official.
In its statement, Attica acknowledged that crew members violated internal procedures and it pledged to make sure that this would never happen again.
The company would be hard-pressed to argue differently after video footage widely circulated in media showing company employees pushing a passenger as he attempted to board the departing 27,200-gt ropax Blue Horizon (built 1987).
The 36-year-old Antonis Karyotis — a day labourer from the island Crete — subsequently fell off the ship’s vehicle ramp directly astern of the ship, hit his head on the quay and drowned.
As he disappeared under the surface of the water, Blue Horizon’s crew was just looking on and the ship departed without stopping to help.
Karyotis had a ticket to enter the ship and his altercation with the crew happened as the Blue Horizon was about to raise its stern ramp. It is common practice in Greece for ferries to raise the ramp at the same time they are leaving the dock.
Despite an obligation to attend all loadings and unloadings at Piraeus harbour, no coastguards were anywhere near.
Indignation over suspected manslaughter
The Blue Horizon’s master and three crew members appeared before a prosecutor to face manslaughter charges on Wednesday.
The incident caused widespread outcry in the Greek public and media.
Even Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis weighed in on the debate to express his grief.
“Yesterday’s shameful incident is not an expression of the country we want — I believe that no Greek would like to see it as a reflection of their own image,” he posted on Facebook on Wednesday.
Attica Group reiterated on Thursday that it would carry out a “wide-ranging and in-depth” investigation with the assistance of independent outside advisors.
The incident and Paschalis’s resignation come at a highly sensitive time for the company.
Its major shareholder Piraeus Bank, a Greek lender, is widely expected to seek a buyer for the firm after completing on 28 August a buyout offer of minority interests that brought its stake in the firm to 97.4%.
Also last month, Greek regulators gave their final approval of a merger between the firm and cash-strapped rival Anek, which essentially saved the latter from bankruptcy.
Reputational issues may hurt the firm whose profitability remains thin, even though it has been recovering after the coronavirus pandemic.
The Athens-listed company posted a modest €17.5m profit ($18.7m) in 2022 but that was largely due to its fuel-cost hedging rather than its operating results.
Attica has a market capitalisation of about €570m. Its shares were trading flat both on Wednesday and Thursday, which is understandable given its minimal free float.