Standing in the hot noonday sun on the 3rd of September, I waited in the harbour of Paroikia to be taken by boat out to the floating crane located above the wreck of the Express Samina. This is the crane we have become accustomed to seeing over the past year - either in Paroikia harbour or out towards the "Portes" rocks.
I didn't know what was expected of me, but I climbed confidently into the small rubber Zodiac boat driven by a real "seabear" called Nikos.
As we set off slowly from the port the sea was very calm, but as we left the shelter of the harbour, the waves became bigger and bigger. The zodiac was tossed high on the crest of each wave, only to come crashing down again on the other side. I was holding tightly to a rope at the edge where I was 'sitting', but every time the boat hit the water again after one of these high jumps, I knocked the joints of my fingers on the side of the Zodiac.
There was no way I could let go of the rope unless I wanted to end up in the sea, but it took all my courage to hold on as my knuckles were soon bruised and bleeding. So much so that I couldn't even drive my car for some days afterwards!
But it wasn't just painful - it was really frightening. Still, I felt as though I had had the chance to experience a little bit of the panic the passengers on the Samina must have felt. And a few days later I lit a candle and said a small prayer for them at the church of Ekatontapiliani.
After what seemed like an eternity, I arrived, pretty shaken, at the crane and was introduced to the Nikor Group team. The Nikor Group is a private maritime company who provide floating crane services and underwater work, repairs and searches. The team comprises the boss, Vassilios Dimitriadis, eight divers and seven technical support personnel. Since last October they have been trying to shed some light on all the still unknown factors involved in the sinking of the Samina. And I can tell you from what I witnessed that it is very hard work!
I watched the support team working with precision timing - because they are dealing with the lives of their eight divers, they monitor every move underwater with video cameras. They are only allowed to remain working underwater for a maximum of 52 minutes and then must be monitored minute by minute as they return slowly to the surface, stopping every few metres to ensure they don't get decompression sickness (excess nitrogen concentration in the blood - a very serious, and potentially fatal, condition).
They operate two huge underwater drills which scratch the mud centimetre by centimetre off the side of the Samina in order to get to the rip in the hull of the boat. This is then measured and photographed to provide essential evidence to be used by lawyers in the criminal proceedings that will take place once the Nikor Group team have finished their formidable task.
They hope to be done by Christmas, but their work is subject to many unavoidable delays. Each time the weather gets bad, they must interrupt their work and disconnect all the machines and wires going down from the crane to the wreck which lies on the sea floor 38m beneath the surface. Then they must bring the crane back into harbour to avoid damages to their expensive precision tools. This process takes one-and-a-half days each time, and then, when the weather improves again, the same process is repeated the other way around. Very tiring and, I imagine, quite frustrating!
My friend Dimitris, who gave me the chance to visit the crane and to write this article for 'Paros Life', made a special point of introducing me to the only female member of the team - a lovely, 25-year old, courageous woman called Barbara. She has been diving since she was 13 and is now an expert professional diver working on the wreck.
When we left on the Zodiac a few hours later, I anticipated the return journey with some trepidation. But I needn't have worried. Barbara had just finished her shift and returned with us, allowing me to hold on to her on the way back - an experienced female seabear, even at her tender age!