Stunning, clear blue waters. Enchanting beaches and unique islands. Greece is known throughout the world as one of the best tourist destinations. But what happens when that reputation is tarnished by thriller-like accidents?
The latest tragic event, in a long list of maritime accidents, occurred off the coast of Leros involving as its unlucky protagonist, Ali Sabanci the Chairman of Pegasus Airlines Board of Directors. The incident, which made headlines in the neighboring country's media, as it concerns the heir of one of Turkey's richest families, seems to have a positive outcome as, after three surgeries, Sabanci's recovery is progressing smoothly.
Ali Sabanci, together with his wife and two children, was traveling from Lipsi to Leros. He was driving his chase boat himself, when he collided into rocks, which he failed to see in time. The boating crash was severe. His children managed to jump off the boat, but Mr. Sabanci and his wife were not so lucky. Greek doctors at the Leros hospital fought hard to keep him alive. After several surgeries, his adventure was brought to a happy ending. However, the incident serves as yet another reminder of safety in Greek seas.
Maritime Tourism – A valuable, but unprotected asset
With 16,000 km of coastline, 427 islands and more than 3,000 islets, Greece is reasonably a paradise for Maritime Tourism, but also an ideal investment destination. In 2022, Maritime Tourism contributed to 1.41% of GDP, preserving 43,626 jobs. Despite the huge development prospects opened up through the creation of new marinas and the modernization of existing ones, this vital tourism sector is faced with huge security issues. Issues that threaten not only the lives of those who enjoy the sea, but also the reputation of the entire country.
Statistics regarding accidents at sea make it clear that the situation leaves no room for any complacency. According to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), between 2014 and 2021, there were 21,173 maritime injuries in Europe, with human error accounting for 81.1% of them. In 2021 alone, there were 725 serious injuries and 36 deaths, with collision as their main cause. It is worth noting that in Greece there are 407 water sports companies, 283 diving service companies and 530 boat rental companies. If one were to also take into account the enormous number of private boats and yachts that sail on the Greek seas during the summer months, they would easily understand that the increase in accidents, such as that of Sabanci, is more than taken for granted.
How can then security be enhanced in this critical tourism sector? The answer has two equally important aspects. The first has to do with the modernization of the institutional framework. The increasing traffic within the Greek seas reveals the urgent need to establish new, stricter rules and protocols regarding safety systems. The Ministry of Shipping must undertake a series of initiatives in this regard.
The second aspect has to do with the responsibility of Maritime Tourism entrepreneurs, but also yacht owners. Investing in safe navigation, with cutting edge means and systems, cannot take second place.
In 2023, it is at least reckless to sail on the Greek seas, by relying on our own experience and outdated GPS systems. The reef-filled waters around our country’s islands have claimed the lives of many travelers. It is high time this situation changed.
The solution lies in technology
Could the Sabanci accident have been averted? The answer is yes. Technology has already provided solutions to this issue, as well. In fact, a startup company has relied on cutting edge technology to usher in a new era of safe navigation. Israel-based WATCHIT has managed to develop a "smart early warning system" by combining advanced algorithms with the valuable experience of seasoned captains and naval commanders. WATCHIT's innovative safety system has the ability to eliminate the possibility of human error, by providing a timely warning for almost all the dangers lurking in the sea that are visible to the naked eye or not. Installing systems like this one is neither expensive nor complicated. It's just a question of responsibility.