Thirteen people appear in Greek court on charges of causing Hydra forest fire

Thirteen people appear in Greek court on charges of causing Hydra forest fire

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Thirteen people were brought before a Greek public prosecutor on Sunday after being arrested in connection with a forest fire ignited on the island of Hydra by fireworks allegedly launched from the pleasure boat they were sailing on.

Local media showed the 13 crew members and passengers arriving at the criminal court in Piraeus to answer charges of causing the blaze on Friday night.

“The prosecutor has requested that the vessel in question be seized,” said the country’s minister of climate crisis and civil protection, Vasilis Kikilias. “It remains to be seen from [their] testimonies what they did, and didn’t, do.”

The fire destroyed a large swath of the otherwise rocky Argo-Saronic isle’s only pine forest before it was extinguished by firefighters on Saturday. “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 Kikilias, estimating that about 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of forest had been lost to the blaze.

Media reports described the passengers as Kazakh citizens. The nationality of the crew members also onboard the Persefoni I – a 53-metre-long (176ft) luxury superyacht chartered for €299,000 (£253,000) a week in the high season – remained unclear.

Greece has endured unusually hot weather, with a heatwave occurring before 15 June – the earliest on record – and temperatures exceeding 44C (111F) in some locations.

After an excessively mild winter, much of the Mediterranean country has become a tinderbox. In recent days the extreme weather conditions have sparked fires across the country.

On Friday, the civil protection service called for extreme vigilance because the risk of fires, often fanned by gale-force winds, was “very high”, particularly in the Attica region, the Peloponnese peninsula and central Greece.

A popular island south of Athens, Hydra has become a favoured stopover for holidaymakers chartering yachts, a form of tourism that has increased along with the record numbers visiting the country.

The island’s mayor, Giorgos Koukoudakis, said the municipality would be seeking compensation once the judicial process had run its course, if the accused were found guilty.

“Depending on the outcome, our town hall will seek compensation,” he said. “What was destroyed was absolutely beautiful pine forest and on the night in question, because of the winds, fireworks were banned. To use them was utterly irresponsible.”

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The accused were granted 48 hours on Sunday to prepare defence statements, with the public prosecutor requesting they reappear in court next week.

Penalties for arson and ecological destruction have been toughened in Greece, with the amended criminal code stipulating prison terms of up to 20 years and fines of up to €200,000 for those found guilty of such crimes.

A Mediterranean hotspot, Greece is on the frontline of the climate emergency.

Last year, an unprecedented two-week heatwave was followed by devastating wildfires that left 20 people dead. Since the onset of the season this year, eight tourists, including the well-known British TV presenter Michael Mosley, have died as a result of suspected heat exhaustion after embarking on island hikes during blistering temperatures.

The Guardian