Days after an overloaded boat sank in the Mediterranean on June 14, 2023 with a heavy loss of life, a Greek television station aired a video of men on a crowded vessel with the claim they were migrants on the same ship before it went down. But this is wrong. The video was made up of separate clips on TikTok of two different migrant crossings to Europe in late May and early June 2023. A trail of social media posts shows that both those boats actually made it to Italy, unlike the one that sank off Pylos. At least 82 people drowned in the disaster but many more are feared dead.
MEGA television aired the video on its June 17, 2023 evening news bulletin with the caption: “A chilling video-document was uploaded online before the sinking of the fishing boat with hundreds of migrants.”
The same video was shared on several other media, such as NewsIT, Proto Thema and News247. A similar video appeared on Facebook with the claim that it showed people on the boat shortly before the deadly shipwreck off Pylos.
However, the video was not taken onboard the ship that sank. It is made up of clips from two different boats that made the Mediterranean crossing before the deadly shipwreck.
By searching online for the TikTok handles seen in MEGA’s report, we found that the video it aired was compiled of two clips taken from the same TikTok account @usmanbatti261 (archived here). We then found the original videos, which were published earlier by separate users on other TikTok accounts.
The first crossing in late May
The first video (archived here) was from the TikTok account @balikhan870. It showed migrants on a boat and the text: “#foryou #labia to itlay# #foryou”, suggesting that the boat was taking a route between Libya and Italy. The account has since been deleted.
The video — no longer visible — was uploaded on May 30, 2023, two weeks before the shipwreck of Pylos. Later uploads on the same account showed the progress of this journey, ending with an apparently successful rescue and landing in Sicily.
For example, another video (archived version here) on the same account and also showing men on a crowded boat was uploaded on May 27. It is marked with the date May 21, suggesting that it is when it was filmed.
Another clip (archived here) was uploaded on May 31 and seems to show a rescue mission underway. We see the Italian Coast Guard’s Motovedetta CP320 involved in the rescue mission; the boat bears the naval ensign of Italy.
A boat journey from Libya to Italy can take between one and seven days depending on the route it follows, Louise Guillaumat, deputy director of operations at the SOS Mediterranée non-governmental organisation, told AFP on June 22.
The timeline of the crossing in this TikTok series in late May is much earlier than would be expected for the boat in the Pylos disaster on June 14.
A media officer for Sea-Watch said on June 21 that a boat like the one involved in the Pylos tragedy could be expected to take four to six days to complete the crossing. This depended on the number of persons on board, the ship and weather conditions.
Looking for confirmation of the rescue shown in this TikTok series, AFP found this report (archived here) from an Italian news outlet. It says that on May 24, the Diciotti patrol vessel of the Italian Coast Guard rescued 423 migrants who were onboard a fishing boat off the coast of Sicily. The report includes a video of the Italian Coast Guard rescue mission.
The fishing boat in this video has the same characteristics as the one in the TikTok series, including a light blue colour, a backwards-leaning structure in the rear part of the boat, and a large window on the side. These are seen below.
Another video (archived here) uploaded on the same account on June 6 shows a sign that reads “PREFETTURA DI MESSINA”, which means “Messina Prefecture” in Italian. It shows the port in Messina, Sicily, to where the migrant posting the videos was apparently transferred. In the video, we see a boat with the inscription CP 941. This corresponds to the Diciotti vessel involved in the rescue.
As shown below, the one in the TikTok series has a window-like opening, which is absent in the boat that sank. The structures on the rear of the boats appear different in shape and angle.
Second video shows a later crossing
The second video used in the MEGA television report comes from a TikTok account with the handle @luckymental06. The account was deleted on June 22, 2023, but AFP had already archived relevant content.
It shows men on the upper level of a boat and was uploaded on June 9, four to five days before the shipwreck off Pylos.
On the same TikTok account, we found two more similar videos from the boat. This one was also uploaded on June 9. This one was uploaded on June 18 and shows only a screenshot with a caption in Urdu reading: “We congratulate brother Jahangir from Dinga on reaching Italy from Libya. May Allah make you successful. Amen.” Dinga is a city in the Gujrat district of Pakistan.
Again, the boat seen in these videos has visible differences from the one that capsized near Pylos. An example is that there is no corresponding structure in the rear part of this vessel but only two smaller pipes, as shown below.
AFP found videos from the same boat in another TikTok account with the handle @mehar_tahir3 (archived here). They are here (archived), here (archived), here (archived), here (archived) and here (archived). The videos were uploaded on TikTok between June 9 and June 17.
A number of elements show it is the same boat: we see the same people, wearing the same clothes. The boat’s structure also looks identical, with the two pipes visible.
Some of the videos are captioned with the dates June 2, June 3 and June 6. According to what Frontex and NGOs told AFP, this makes it highly unlikely that the boat was still on the same journey on the night of the shipwreck, which was June 13 to June 14.
AFP looked for media reports on rescue missions in that period and found this AP report (archived here) that mentions Italian Coast Guard missions that saved more than 1,400 migrants on June 6 and June 7.
Differences between the boats in the video aired by MEGA and the one in the Frontex footage were first noted by BBC journalist Kostas Kallergis in this tweet on June 17.
Fact-checking organisation Ellinika Hoaxes also published a report on the misrepresentation of the videos. It was able to exchange messages below a Facebook post (archived here) with a user with the same name (“Lucky Mental”) and facial characteristics as the person who uploaded videos from the boat on TikTok. In the comments section, “Lucky Mental” described the MEGA report as “fake” and confirmed that the boat he was on was rescued in Italian territorial waters on June 7.