After a man drowned on September 5, 2023 while attempting to board a ferry in the Greek port of Piraeus, a post was shared more than a hundred times on Facebook claiming that days later a member of the coast guard threw himself into the sea to save a little girl from the same fate. However, the girl’s rescue actually dates back to May 2022, as the port authorities confirmed to AFP.
The 36-year-old man drowned in the waters of the country’s biggest port after being pushed into the water by a ferry crew member. The ship’s captain and three crew members are being prosecuted for manslaughter, and on September 11, Greek Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis resigned over the issue.
The incident shocked Greece and an internal port police investigation was launched on September 6 following criticism of the lack of action by port police as the man was pushed from the ship’s access ramp. The minister described it as “murder”. On September 7, the central port captain and the commander of the Piraeus port department were dismissed.
Early on September 9, a Facebook post published an image accompanied by the following text: “Today, without a second thought, duty officer Ioannis Stathopoulos, a member of the coast guard at the port of Piraeus, jumped into the waters of the port and rescued a five-year-old girl who was drowning in the sea (…)”.
The publication also shares a text that appears to be a quote from the same officer said to have saved the little girl.
However, this claim is misleading and lacks context. Stathopoulos did in fact save a five-year-old girl from drowning after she had fallen off a quay in the port of Piraeus, but this happened in May 2022, AFP confirmed.
An advanced online search using the keywords “port coast guard + Piraeus + little girl” revealed a series of articles in the Greek press reporting the rescue of a five-year-old girl by a coast guard officer on May 25, 2022, in the port of Piraeus. The incident was reported by established media organisations including ERT, Ethnos and Kathimerini.
Kathimerini reported that the girl’s mother was subsequently arrested and prosecuted for exposing a minor to danger.
The picture and quote shared in the September 9 Facebook post are the same as those of Stathopoulos taken and published by the online news site newsit.gr. The newsit.gr logo can also be seen on the photo.
Stathopoulos’ quotes are also identical to those he made to the press in a video for the OPEN TV channel at the time of the rescue.
The rescue was also reported by the Greek coast guard in a press release published on their official website on May 25, 2022. Ioannis Stathopoulos was honoured for his heroic deed by the Greek Ministry of Maritime and Insular Policy on January 19, 2023.
A coast guard communications officer told AFP by telephone on September 11, 2023 that no such rescue took place in the port of Piraeus that month. However, he confirmed the original rescue on May 25, 2022.
In addition, a search on the same coast guard website for a rescue around the same dates in September 2023 in the port of Piraeus yielded no results.