Arthur Athans talks of the joy and hope as they left Port Said bound for Castellorizo. He later talks of the horrors of a burning ship with no where to go and the screaming and crying onboard:
We left Nuseirat by train with joy and hope via El-Shatt where we remained for about one week. We arrived in Port Said at the early hours of 28th September, 1945. We arrived at the quay early in the morning close where the British motor vessel Empire Patrol was docked. From what I remember we were close to 500 persons of all ages ready to depart. It was a beautiful day and we saw our luggage going into the hold of the ship. Slowly, slowly we boarded and settled on the top deck. The vessel was black with a definite smell of petrol. There were only few cabins therefore we could sleep on deck or sleep further down at "D" deck of the ship. The refugees were crowded together in open big spaces with their belongings close to them. During the afternoon some of the passengers relaxed and others had a siesta.
On the morning of 29th September the Empire Patrol departed from Port Said heading towards the port of Castellorizo. Later the same morning we were given life jackets and summoned in different positions of the ship and we were told in English about emergency procedures. At that stage, everything seemed normal and together with other children we descended to "D" deck for a sleep.
Paul Boyatzis recalls the departure from Palestine:
The main body of Castellorizians left Palestine in the third contingent, or as it was named, 'Triti Apostoli'. Our group numbered 497 persons, mainly women and children. The previous two contingents had left earlier for Castellorizo, to prepare the island for habitation.
Arthur Athans remembers the first outbreak of the fire:
We must have been in deep sleep because we didn't hear the siren. It was my sister Katina who ran three decks down to wake us up. The fire meant we couldn't use the main stairway and we had to find an alternative way to the front of the boat. We managed to quickly get on the top deck and realized that the ship was in flames. The fire must have been going on for a while and the wind was forcing the fire towards the bow of the ship. Men, women and children, screaming and crying, were forcing themselves towards the back of the ship. My mother and my sisters managed to pass through. Suddenly a burning part of a mast blocked my way and I was trapped at the front together with a few other passengers. It was impossible to go any further. I was the youngest of the group and I was crying continuously not knowing what happened to the rest of my family. I was given a life jacket and the officer was keeping an eye on me all the time. Vision was not possible from one section to the other because of the heavy smoke.
The wind kept forcing the fire towards us and we kept going forward up one step at the time. Later I saw the water where we were standing boiling. With the fire and huge smoke, it was impossible to see what was happening at the back of the ship. The fire kept coming towards us and we all kept going forward until we reached the last step where ironically the little British flag was waving. Some passengers encouraged me to jump from the ship .... It was so high....I was afraid and declined by crying continuously. I noticed at the time, the officer and others threw on the side of the ship heavy ropes with the hope that their weight might turn the ship a little to the other side slowing the fire which was coming towards the bow. This procedure was successful because it gave us more time. That also gave time to the officer and others to prepare a rope ladder and try to lower me down on the sea. Half way down, the wind was blowing the ladder and me away from the ship and hitting me back on the hot metal of the ship. Quickly the officer and others pulled up the rope ladder with me holding on, back on board. At this stage we still did not know the situation at the stern where most of the passengers were. Two airplanes circled our ship and later disappeared.
First dramatic and aerial shot of the SS Empire Patrol onfire taken by the South African Airforce
Paul Boyatzis remembers the situation as the fire spread:
One's recollection of the conduct at the scene was that of concern, activity, fear, prayer, waiting orders for action but no undue incidents of unruliness were personally witnessed.
Katina Verevis (nee Simonides) talks of her departure and the fire onboard:
I had my appendix removed in Gaza one week before we left and I was still recovering from the operation. Dr Hadjiyiannakis managed to organise for me to occupy the fourth bunk in a four berth cabin with three elderly women. Most of the refugees were in large open spaces below.
I was visited by the doctor and another Greek person named Panos who I think came from Cyprus to see if I was alright. Ten minutes later I heard loud screams from Anastasia, the doctor's wife, who with her family occupied a nearby cabin. She was calling to her husband to look to the safety of her children. I was confused as to what was happening when Panos burst into the cabin and dragged me to the open deck. I saw the flames and realised our position. I don't know what happened to the other three women, I never saw them again, I think they drowned.
Some men, including my brother, Nikos, got into a boat and vanished in the distance. We didn't know what happened to them. They were in the water for days and were picked up in a terrible state near Cyprus. They eventually joined us two weeks later.
And from Nicholas Loucas:
I remember my grandfather, Savas Savas, lifting with a rope and bucket seawater to pour onto the hot deck of the boat which was burning our feet.
My brother Lucas and my sisters, Nina and Evangelia, were in a raft with me. When the rope that secured us to the Empire Patrol was cut we drifted into the sea. Lucas realising that the raft was overcrowded jumped into the water. He was a good swimmer and swam to a nearby boat and was rescued much later than us. We thought he had drowned.
Evangelia Mallis (nee Boyatzis) recalls her experience in leaving the Empire Patrol:
My father lowered my two brothers, Paul and Leffy, into the raft with my Aunty Zoe and cousins so that at least some members of the family had some chance to survive. At that stage we thought that help would never come. As it were we were rescued before them. They were not picked up until the next day and for a time we thought they had drowned.
Paul Boyatzis talks of his departure from the Empire Patrol:
I climbed down a rope ladder with twelve persons into a rubber life raft. This was secured to the boat by a rope. It was decided to cut the rope for fear of the boat exploding and this caused the raft to drift into the distance. Gradually vision of the Empire Patrol diminished in the distance and night fell. Floating in the water with nothing now visible. At dusk we saw a small craft passing by and appeared close to us. We all in unison gave loud calls of 'help' which to our frustration were ignored. As we floated in darkness the lights of Port Said could be seen in the distance. It was another frustrating element which produced a feeling of desperation.
The silence of the long wet, cold and miserable night was intermittently broken with repeated and combined cries for help. To attract attention women tore material from their dresses and supported stood on the edge of the rubber craft waiving all in vain. The sea was choppy with the craft floating wildly with a few episodes during the night when the waves nearly upturned our float. Nick Loucas who was in another similar raft remembers floating past our raft during the night.
Michael Houlis talks of his family departure from Palestine and how he left the on fire Empire Patrol:
I was thirteen years of age when we left on the Empire Patrol with nine other members of my family. The youngest was my brother, Stavros, who was born in Palestine and was still a baby. Before boarding the ship we saw what my father described as ammunition being unloaded. If that was so you can imagine the consequences if it was left on board during the fire.
When the ship was on fire we were at the rear end of the boat. I can remember people jumping in the water. Some were still secured with ropes whilst others swam freely in the sea. I saw a lady being dragged in the water, whilst still secured to the boat by a rope, as the Empire Patrol was moving with the tide.
I saw the ropes of the life boat being cut as it was lowered in the water. The life boat capsized killing several people instantly.
When we were on the burning deck and before jumping in the water, my father advised us to keep on singing and not to fall asleep, otherwise we would drown. We could hear screams from below deck of elderly ladies who could not be helped because of the huge fire.
I jumped into the water at about 2.30pm with my parents remaining on the boat. I swam to a fully submerged life boat, and together with about thirty males and two women, hung on the sides of the boat until about 3.00am. We were then later rescued by a launch from the H.M.S. Trouncer.