The story behind the Shipwreck Beach

la storia della spiaggia del relitto Zante

The history of the Zakynthos Shipwreck Beach has always been full of contradictions and mysteries. The complete and detailed reportage by Sotiris Skouloudis puts an end to all the rumors and gossip that have created an aura of mystery around one of the most emblematic shipwrecks in the world. The reportage is the result of many months of research in four countries (Greece, Italy, Tunisia and Malta). During these months the data, autopsies and testimonies of the subjects involved in the 1980 events that led the ship “Panagiotis” to shipwreck on the coast of Zakynthos were analyzed. Thanks to the testimonies of nine crew members, of which seven were Greeks and two Italians, it was possible to reconstruct the history of the Shipwreck Beach.

The story
la storia della spiaggia del relitto di Zante

The 13th September 1980 the merchant ship “Panagiotis”, was anchored in Kefalonia at the port of Argostoli, preparing to set sail for the Piraeus port of Athens. But at the last minute the plan changes. The owner and captain seem to be making an under-the-counter deal with the Camorra and the ship sails to a destination off the coast of Tunisia to collect 1,895 boxes, each containing 50 packs of cigarettes. During the voyage the ship “Panagiotis” passes through the control of the Italian coast guard off the coast of Naples, but no irregularities are detected. Shortly thereafter, two Italians board the ship, playing the role of intermediaries and controllers, to ensure that the cargo from Africa reaches Italy. Having reached the Tunisian coasts, the Panagiotis ship docks next to the “San Giorgio” boat where it transshipped the 1,895 boxes. At this point the Greek captain, on the pretext that the ship’s ticket has not been paid by the Italian partners, in agreement with the owner, takes the two Italians hostage and the ship begins to head towards Greek territorial waters, with destination still unknown (it seems that the captain previously tried to obtain an additional $ 16,000 from his Italian partners). According to the testimony of Vartakos, a member of the crew, the cargo would not have been stolen from the Italians adding “We were back in Greece waiting for them to pay for the ticket”.

The Shipwreck
la storia della spiaggia del relitto di Zante

During the return voyage the engine is giving some trouble and, on the evening of Octorber 1st, the ship “Panagiotis” becomes unmanageable off Zakynthos. The weather is bad and the wind is strong. Most of the crew sleeps inside the ship. The winds push the “Panagiotis” towards the rocks of the steep bay of Zakynthos. The radio emits one last SOS, before the batteries run out and stop working. Then a naval rocket is launched into the air, but it is not seen by anyone.

A description of the dramatic moments before the collision. “At 04:30 on 02/10/1980 I woke up from a jolt and saw that the boat was crashing into the rocks. I shouted to the captain to drop anchor so that the ship could remain standing. He replied not to do anything. The boat pushed by the sea ran aground – we had thrown two lifeboats overboard before it ran aground. I woke up just before grounding, that’s why we were saved. Pilos and I went down to the engine room and our efforts helped the ship to turn 10 ° and the result was that the ship avoided the rocks so we ran aground slowly on the sand”. It should be noted that the ship’s cook, although he had orders to the contrary, released the two imprisoned Italians in time to be rescued together with the others. “They are people too,” he replied to the commander when he began cursing him for this action.

Shipwrecked in Zakynthos

The whole crew, lucky in their misfortune, is on an unknown beach, in the dark, but they are all fine. “We took some blankets to sleep and the next day we discovered that the cargo had taken water. With the first light of dawn, “We brought 280 cartons of cigarettes ashore, which we covered with the ship’s tarpaulin”. However, the weather continues to be bad and walking access to the beach is impossible. The nine men remain on the beach and wait two whole days, unable to move either by land or on the stormy sea with their rafts. “We stayed there until 03/10 in the morning, when the sea calmed down and then we left with the lifeboat”. After six hours of paddling, we reached a bay to the north. “The captain had previously ordered them to save what remains of the hold of the ship which is now full of water and under the protests of the two Italians they unload 280 crates on the beach.

The report of the shipwreck

The nine men, in two “installments” and with the rafts, reach another bay, and from there the village of Volimes and then to the port to report the event. In the meantime, news of the shipwreck has already spread. During the bus ride, one of them manages to throw the revolver (which has never been found) from the window into a field. It should be noted that the 280 surviving crates remained unchecked on the beach. The customs arrived at the beach a few days later, however, only 28 were found. The crew reported that during their stay on the beach they had noticed at least two boats, at a distance of 300 meters, observing them from a distance. The rest of the boxes were allegedly taken by the locals.

So, as is well known, in the space of a few years this accident that left irreparable marks on one of the most beautiful bays of Zakynthos has made this bay famous all over the world.


In this article “How to get to Shipwreck Beach” we explain how to get to the most famous beach of Zakynthos by sea or by land.


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