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Yacht Crew Arrested After Fireworks Ignite Blaze on Greek Island

Greek Hydra Island wildfire yacht
Photo- Facebook/ Epoxikoipirosvestes

A dramatic case unfolding in Greece has put an entire superyacht crew at risk of serious jail time.

Thirteen crew members were arrested after fireworks from their superyacht seemingly caused a forest fire on the Greek island of Hydra.

Photos circulating on social media showed a massive blaze along a hillside with a large yacht in the foreground.

The event unfolded on June 21st and delivered significant damage to a hillside pine forest in the coastal area. Greek firefighters were dispatched to the area by boat and by plane to combat the blaze. The island of Hydra is entirely vehicle-free.

Fire crews had to use a 'harbour ship' to approach the coastline and extinguish the blaze. Because there was no road access to site of the fire, fire crews were also forced to use a helicopter to access the fire from above.

Due to an ongoing heatwave in the region, Hydra, as well as several other nearby islands, have been battling multiple wildfires in recent weeks. Hydra is on the east coast of the Peloponnese peninsula -- a 90 minute boat ride from the port of Piraeus, which is part of the Athens-Piraeus urban area.

The country has been dealing with an unseasonably warm spring and summer and was already in the midst of a heatwave. Temperatures exceeded 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) in some locations around the Mediterranean country.

Thirteen members of the crew were arrested on Sunday June 23rd. Local media reported that the guests onboard the yacht were from Khazakstan, but were allowed to leave the country without being examined as witnesses.

The yacht involved was the 53 meter (176 foot) Persefoni I. The vessel was built by Mariotti Yachts and launched in 2012. She sails under the flag of Malta and costs about $320,500 (€299,000) a week to charter during peak season.

Confusion about the involvement of guests or crew led to some questioning from locals, which in turn pressured the local police to issue a statement, saying: "Regarding publications referring to the escape of persons related to the case of the fire in Hydra, the headquarters of the Hellenic Police announces that the Hellenic Police never pre-investigatively got involved in the case in question, as well as there was never any information from a pre-investigation or prosecution authority, regarding the existence of an exit ban measure."

In essence, Greek authorities have stated that they were not under any direction to prevent the yacht guests from leaving the country, and were also not instructed to do so.

A witness report collected by the Hydra Port Authority made by the captain of a nearby yacht stated that the blaze was started by fireworks originating from the Persefoni I.

As a result, a Greek prosecutor has brought criminal charges and the captain and crew of the vessel. and the yacht has since been seized by Greek authorities.

“Six airplanes and two teams of firefighters, who had to be absent from dealing with other fires and services, were required to put it out,” said civil protection minister Vassilis Kikilias, who estimated that roughly 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of forest was destroyed in the blaze, according to The Guardian.

In accordance with Greek law, the accused were given 48 hours starting on Sunday to prepare statements in their defense. The public prosecutor has requested that the group reappear in court this week.

Greek has notably stiff laws for arson involving ecological damage. The defendants could face up to 20 years in prison and fines up to €200,000 (250,000 USD) if found guilty.

“We changed the laws to punish those who set fires, leading to the loss of life or causing destruction to the environment," said Kikilias on Sunday.

As the hot weather continues to persist countrywide, government officials have asked all Greek citizens and visitors to be extra vigilant in the coming weeks. The risk of strong winds pushing a small fire across the narrow country is 'very high,' according to the civil protection service.

Kazakhstani media is reporting that one of the guests aboard the vessel may have been well-known Kazakhstani and Halyk Bank CEO Daniyar Abulgazin. The Greek City Times corroborated Abulgazin's presence on the boat and added that some of the guests may have been from Britain and Poland, as well. UPDATED 06/28 12:00 EST- Marine Industry News UK is reporting that the captain and first officer have been held on charges of arson pending trial. Meanwhile, local Greek news outlet Protothema is also reporting that an investigation by authorities found tracing of fireworks on the beach, indicating that it may have been beach goers responsible for the fire rather than the boat crew.

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