Kyriakos Papadopoulos. CREDIT: PBS
Kyriakos Papadopoulos. CREDIT: PBS

Greece is mourning the loss of Hellenic Coast Guard lieutenant, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, also known as 'The Hero of the Aegean' by Greeks for his role in saving the lives of over 5,000 refugees. He died Monday of a heart attack.

Kyriakos Papadopoulos was commander of the patrol vessel PLS 602 stationed on the Northern Aegean island of Lesbos. He passed away on Monday evening unexpectedly. He was just 44 years old and a father of two children.

His funeral will be held on Thursday, at 4.30pm, local time, at the Agiou Therapona Church on Lesvos. 

An emblematic figure, Papadopoulos was honored by Greece's Academy of Athens and the Greek authorities, and was also a nominee for an Oscar after the film '4.1 miles' was nominated for an Academy Award. 

Greece's Deputy Minister of National Defence, Fotis Kouvelis said in a media statement: "Our sincere condolences go to to the family of the symbol of heroism for the Aegean." 

Kyriakos Papadopoulos showed to Europe how Greece understands the values of humanity, solidarity, parity and peace
_ Fotis Kouvelis, Deputy Minister of National Defence, Greece

"Kyriakos Papadopoulos, in rescuing more than 5,000 people from the sea, is one of the members of the Greek Coast Guard who showed to Europe how Greece understands the values of humanity, solidarity, parity and peace . The Coast Guard is proud of this very honorable member. 

"He is one of the members of our service who showed and highlighted the value of human life and the image of Greece that, through the economic and social crisis, has remained faithful to the humanitarian values of its culture, which must also be Europe's values".

Papadopoulos enlisted in the Hellenic Coast Guard in 1999 at 25 and after spending two years on Greek seas, he returned to his native Lesvos to work for the Coast Guard there. After meeting in 2016 the former Chancellor of Austria, Werner Faymann, to whom he told he saved more than 5,000 people, Weyman replied "you are a real hero!". 

Sea arrivals continue to rise 

Meanwhile, in related developments, the number of arrivals of refugees and migrants by sea increased significantly in September, according to the latest official figures released. According to the Hellenic Coast Guard, there were 124 incidents involving 4,146 refugees who were recorded as arrivals, while 23 "captains" were arrested involving 27 boats. This is a significant increase on August, when 3,212 new arrivals by sea were recorded. 

State mulling over new facility on Evros border 

In Northern Greece, municipal authorities in Thessaloniki met on Tuesday with officials from the Migration Ministry, the Greek Police and NGO's to discuss the potential creation of a new facility to help cope with a spike in arrivals from the Evros border area. Currently, the existing facility in the Diavata area has been extended temporarily. But space is limited and plans are afoot to set up another facility to host new arrivals for the first two days before they are then transferred to police precincts for registering and further transfers on to larger facilities. 

It is not known the size of the venue that the Migration Ministry has in mind but local reports state that it hopes that a solution can be found to accommodate up to 500 people. Greece is blaming Turkey for the increased influx of migrants from its land border with their neighbors, with reports claiming that Athens has lodged complaints with the European Commission and Ankara over the relaxed stance of Turkish authorities.

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