ATHENS — Greece’s Defense Ministry on April 27 awarded the Cross of Excellency to an army sergeant who rescued more than 20 migrants following a deadly shipwreck on the island of Rhodes.
Sgt. Antonis Deligiorgis, who was shown in photographs and video footage around the world rescuing an Eritrean asylum seeker, was honored by Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos at a ceremony in Athens.
Kammenos said the officer had been off duty when he joined the rescue effort and pulled more than 20 people to safety after the wooden sailboat ran aground just outside the main town of Rhodes, in a stretch of coastline known locally for its rocks and strong currents.
Deligiorgis was photographed assisting Eritrean survivor Wegasi Nebiat in an image used on front pages of leading world newspapers, including the New York Times and the Guardian.
Three people died in the shipwreck, while 90 others from Syria and Eritrea were rescued.
One of the women helped by Deligiorgis, later identified as 26-year-old Eritrean Elizabeth Abraha, was heavily pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy at a hospital on Rhodes this week.
“We went into the sea with Coast Guards, Navy sailors and fishermen to help,” Deligiorgis said after the Athens ceremony.
“We got 12-15 people out and got them to the rocks. There were three women that we got out, the third lady was pregnant. I was afraid for her and got others to help,” he said.
Deligiorgis added the rescuers also recovered backpacks, money, and a few mobile phones that they handed back to the survivors.
Before traveling to Athens to pick up his award, Deligiorgis visited the new mother in hospital.
“She was very emotional because of all the support she has received,” said lawyer Kalliope Papapavlou, head of a human rights committee at the island’s bar association, which is assisting her after the birth.
“(Deligiorgis) was also very emotional at their meeting. He came to the hospital with roses.”