Lost At Sea: How the OceanGate Submersible Fiasco Quickly Drowned Out Coverage of the Pylos Migrant Boat Capsize 

Lost At Sea: How the OceanGate Submersible Fiasco Quickly Drowned Out Coverage of the Pylos Migrant Boat Capsize 

Hundreds of migrants tragically died off the coast of mainland Greece after a boat, an overcrowded trawler carrying up to 750 people, capsized on 14 June. While briefly making international news, the incident was quickly overshadowed by headlines of a submersible gone missing while headed towards the Titanic wreckage site, a trip part of a $250,000 exploration package offered by US-based company OceanGate Expeditions. 

An incident where the spectacle surrounding the submersible’s disappearance and implosion pulled critical attention away from a significant migrant transit disaster, the episode encapsulates Western media bias towards an affinity for the world’s most privileged.

A Catastrophic Capsize in Greek Waters 

Leaving Libya for Italy, a smuggler-organized voyage set forth on a dangerous route that’s become more common for migrant boats aiming for discreetness as Europe clamps down on smuggling. Despite the known risks, desperate migrants reportedly paid about $4,500 to go onboard — an excessive, yet not unheard of price for those looking to flee bleak conditions in their respective countries of origin.

While over 100 people, primarily men, survived the June 14 capsize, 82 are confirmed dead, and hundreds more are missing as fears mount, and survivor stories suggest hundreds of women and children were trapped in the trawler’s hold at the time of its capsize.

Indeed, the tragic story reeks of corruption and incompetence. While the Greek Coast Guard, for example, claimed the migrant boat was steadily moving towards its destination until close to the time of its capsize, reporting instead suggests the ship was in distress and not moving for many hours before the turnover. While nine men from the boat have been arrested under suspicion that they belonged to the smuggling ring behind the trawler’s tragic voyage, Athens-based activists allege the Greek government frequently and arbitrarily frames migrant boat capsize survivors as smugglers to redirect blame and public anger. 

But, events surrounding the hours leading up to the boat’s capsize remain complex. Greek officials claim the overcrowded trawler repeatedly refused help, and another boat’s move to rope itself to the vessel and throw water bottles onboard reportedly started fights and dangerously tipped the boat. At the same time, the trans-European rescue hotline Alarm Phone received multiple alerts and updates from those on board before its subsequent capsize in the Mediterranean. 

Some survivors have even suggested the Coast Guard caused the trawler’s collapse into the sea in the process of towing it: recent collaborative reporting from Reporters United, Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, SIRAJ, El Pais, Monitor, and The Times corroborates these claims, finding that authorities may have also tampered with, or otherwise put pressure on survivors to change, survivors’ testimonies about the boat capsize, even confiscating survivors’ phones to prevent the distribution of relevant footage. The publications further allege that Greek authorities may have even attempted to guide the ship to Italian waters in an effort to avoid responsibility for the vessel, perhaps according to an agreement previously arranged with the smugglers facilitating the boat voyage.

A complicated web of details surrounding the trawler’s final hours has emerged as footage appears and survivors speak out, leaving the incident needing critical reporting and publicity. But while the boat’s capsize sparked outrage and protests across Greece, where thousands marched to express anger with Greece and the EU’s border policies, the story has had little staying power amongst international headlines, leaving the world woefully uninformed about one of Europe’s most horrific migrant boat tragedies to date.

The Titan’s Titanic Plunge

A mere four days after the boat capsize near Pylos, the Titan submersible, a project of OceanGate Expeditions, a company “dedicated to the manned exploration of the deep,” lost communications with its mothership less than two hours after it departed for the wreckage site of the Titanic, which infamously sank after hitting an iceberg in 1912, leading to the deaths of most of its passengers. While it’s since been revealed that the submersible imploded, killing all five people onboard, uncertainties surrounding its location and status launched an expansive search and rescue mission, immediately drawing significant online and media attention. 

Notably, the submersible’s passengers paid $250,000 to take the trip with OceanGate Expeditions, advertising the journey as a chance to “[b]ecome one of the few to see the Titanic with your own eyes.” Naturally, the high price point self-selects for the supremely wealthy: in addition to OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush, the submersible’s passengers included British billionaire and adventurer Hamish Harding, mega-millionaire entrepreneur Shahzada Dawood and 19-year-old son Suleman, and prominent French diver and world-class Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

Since the tragic news of the Titan submersible’s disappearance and subsequent implosion, OceanGate Expeditions has suspended its Titanic trips, coming under fire for ignoring safety-related warnings and industry standards

A Clear Case of Media Bias

Despite both tragic events’ harrowing, multifaceted nature, the mass media’s response to the capsized ship near Pylos, Greece, and the submersible implosion appears as night and day. Likely buoyed in part by the submersible’s questionable design and upkeep, which included a video game controller to steer, and the onslaught of internet memes and “eat the rich” jokes that spawned during the incident, coverage of the submersible disappearance and implosion quickly bulldozed over reportage of the near-simultaneous migrant boat sinking, despite the sheer magnitude of life lost in the trawler capsize. 

Further advancing the OceanGate Titan disappearance spectacle was its vast, likely multimillion-dollar search and rescue mission. It summoned the assistance of many large ships, the US Coast Guard and Navy, and the Canadian Coast Guard. In addition to remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs), the search mission even deployed various aircraft and surveillance technologies, like sonar buoys prime for acoustic research, to conduct searches of the deep ocean. 

The trawler capsize search and rescue mission, in contrast, was decidedly less-resourced, with a recent Solomon report finding that Greece had only allocated 600,000 euro from its 820 million euro EU budget for border surveillance and migration deterrence in 2021-2027 — twice the money allotted in the previous funding period — towards search and rescue. 

Such circumstances force speculation that such a difference in resources for the two missions stems, at least in part, from both anti-refugee sentiment rife in the West and a greater collective interest in the lives and well-being of the wealthy.

After all, the absence of international news coverage surrounding the migrant trawler sinking occurs against a backdrop of waning international interest in Europe’s refugee crisis, which functionally continues despite Athens’ claims to the contrary. In Greece, for example, many migrants continue to spend months and even years in punishing asylum procedures, functionally barring them from access to essential services. Meanwhile, well-evidenced claims of pushbacks at sea, where government-manned ships illegally force migrant boats away, are rife, yet the Greek government vehemently denies their occurrence. 

Ultimately, the media’s embrace and sensationalization of the Titan submersible implosion story has overshadowed a near-simultaneous migrant boat capsize that’s likely left hundreds dead yet received a mere fraction of media attention. Both events are tragic: a just media should be able to give the two stories adequate coverage.

Stavroula Pabst

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