Greece, Kefalonia: Grounding on a sand bar leads to impounding pending check of seaworthiness

The problems that might be encountered for cruisers sailing to Kefalonia such that they run the risk of being impounded for following correct procedures at sea after running aground.,

Published 7 years ago, updated 5 years ago

I have tale of woe and a warning to anyone sailing in or around Kefalonia, Greece.

My name is Sean Bowler and I have a Contest 46 called AliBo. I have spent two years getting her ready for a sailing adventure around the World. I and my crew left Portland at the end of March this year to start our tour in the Mediterranean. We have visited all the countries in the West Med and on the 24 July arrived in Kefalonia after a two-day sail from Catania, Sicily.

We decided to go to the marina in Lixouri for a bit of r & r. As we came up to the marina there is an unmarked channel which we were following it, but unknown to us there is a sandbar that has grown into the channel, hence we had a soft grounding on the sand. We tried several times to free ourselves with the engine but to no avail.

As we were effectively in a shipping channel with a number of commercial ferries whizzing about, I issued a pan to advise other shipping we were unable to manoeuvre. Fortunately, with a little help from some very nice ladies in a rib, they gave us a push off the sand as the wind was holding us against it. They advised that we should go into the main harbour as it was better than the marina.

We proceeded into the harbour and tied up. A Coastguard Officer was waiting for us and told us that we must hand over our ships documents as we are impounded by the Port Police pending a check of the yacht’s seaworthiness.

Having had a conversation with the Port Police based in Argostoli on the other side of the inlet, we were told we must get the British Embassy to appoint a Surveyor to get a certificate of seaworthiness before we could have our documents back.

I then contacted the Consulate in Zakynthos, who rightly informed me that it was not their responsibility to authorise surveys to yachts, but the responsibility of the Greek Authorities.

So I went to see the case officer in Argostoli and he told me to contact the British Ships Register for them to authorise the surveyor. This is a 21-ton yacht with a 7.5 ton encapsulated cast iron keel!… However, I had the same response from the BSR.

I then went back to see the case officer – another ferry trip from Lixouri to Argostoli – to explain my findings and we agreed that I could authorise a bona fide Surveyor to carry out the work.

I found a very helpful surveyor in Labion Greece, YDSA member and MCA approved, who organised a diver survey of my yacht.

In the meantime, the Consulate contacted the Chief of Port Police and explained in plain language that if the Greeks wanted a survey they should authorise their own Surveyor. My surveyor, I appointed with their previous agreement, sent the case officer video and photographic evidence that there was no damage to the yacht and in his opinion, it was totally seaworthy. Hurray! sorted!….No – the Chief of the Port Police has now decided that I must contact a Greek surveyor and have the report re-done.

It is now Saturday 29th July and I am still held hostage.

It would seem that the Chief of the Port Police is a woman who is positioning herself for political office, and having become quite good friends with the Coastguard officers at Lixouri, they keep impressing upon me that it is not their doing. They are worried that sea users will not use the VHF when they are in difficulty and may lead to loss of life.

We all know that we have to follow the SOLAS rules, but when you are told by the locals not to use the radio (if you have) problems, where does that leave us?

I am unsure what will happen next.

I have asked for a meeting with the Chief, but so far she has not responded. I have already laid out €600 for a BS survey and am now faced with the prospect of having to do the same again.

The local Coastguard are so embarrassed that they have told me anything I need, fuel, water, even food, is free, as they want tourist yachts to visit their harbour. I just want my papers back so that I can continue my tour.

I think yachties sailing to Kefalonia should be made aware that they run the risk of being impounded for following correct procedures at sea, and secondly, I have been assured that the rest of the Chiefs of Port Police are more understanding of the dangers of following this policy.

As yet I do not know how this is going to end up and many people have said there are worst places to be confined, but that is not the point. As yachties, we take our responsibilities very seriously concerning safety and this really scares me with the consequences of these actions towards people who follow the rules.

Sean Bowler

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  1. December 8, 2018 at 6:57 AM
    Data Entry5 says:

    Update from Sean Bowler:

    You will be pleased to know that we finally met the criteria required by Argostoli port police and have our freedom. I eventually got to speak to a very nice lady in the Consulate at Zakynthos, who although it was outside her remit.

    Blasted them on the telephone for impounding us and confirmed to them in no uncertain terms that the Embassy and the British Ships Register do not authorise yacht surveys. This was followed up by a strongly worded email by the Embassy to the Chief of the port police.

    In the meantime, I had authorised a diver survey through a Mr Robert Elliott of Ellyachts in Labion Greece. A YDSA AND MCA approved surveyor who has helped people like me all over Greece. This was accepted by the Port police.

    Then the next day I was informed that he was not acceptable as he was not Greek! I then received a form to fill in authorising an Argostoli marine engineer who would do the seaworthiness certificate and diver survey.

    This cost me €500 for a diver to do a video of the bottom of my yacht which was so poor you could not see anything. I expected the surveyor to inspect my yacht for seaworthiness, instead, he wrote me a receipt for €74.40, not 500!

    The next day I called the police to see if they were happy with everything and if I could have my documents back. I was informed that they could not release them until the case officer came in that afternoon.

    I promptly got on the ferry, marched into the coastguard station and asked for my papers which suddenly appeared. No apology nothing. The sad thing is Lixouri is a lovely place full of amazing people who are disgusted with the way the port police treat visiting yachts.

    The local coastguard said he was so embarrassed that he would not charge us any harbour dues and hoped we would not look badly on them. I will of course not be using my VHF in or around Kephalonia and have advised my sailing friends to avoid the place.

    The local friendly coastguard informed me that after the earthquake in 2014 the marina channel markers were removed and have not been returned by the authorities, who are Argostoli port police. Surprise.

    I would add that Mr Robert Elliott was an absolute marvel. He refused any money and he is happy to assist any yachties who fall foul of the Greek authorities. But he has no sway with Kephalonia.

    Obviously, I will chalk this up to experience and move on.

  2. December 8, 2018 at 6:57 AM
    Data Entry5 says:

    Although I live in the US, my parents are Greek and they told me that in ancient times the Greeks used to send the crazy people to Kephalonia (Kephali in Greek means head). Perhaps Mr Bowler has run into one of their descendants.