The evacuation of some 1,600 people, passengers and crew members, from a stricken cruise ship was carried out successfully yesterday, after the vessel, run by Louis Hellenic Cruises, ran aground off the coast of the Greek island of Santorini.The Sea Diamond rammed an underwater bed of rocks in the island’s lagoon, formed by a giant volcanic explosion about 3,500 years ago, as it was approaching the main island’s harbor to dock. The hull was damaged and it began to sink about a nautical mile from shore. A distress signal was issued, and the passengers and crew were evacuated over the course of about three hours. The ship sank below the surface of the sea about 18 hours after striking the rocks. The Greek-flagged Sea Diamond issued a distress signal at 4pm yesterday after suffering a hull breach when it apparently struck a reef in Santorini’s volcanic lagoon more than one nautical kilometer off the coast of the picturesque island.There were reports of two passengers missing. Officials in Santorini said that the two missing French passengers, a 45-year-old father and his 16-year-old daughter, were reported missing late on Thursday by another family member who was also on the cruise.“All other passengers have been accounted for,” said George Stathopoulos, spokesman for the cruise line. “We’re certain now.”The weather at the time of the incident was good and the sea was calm.
Six navy rescue helicopters, two military transport planes and various navy vessels along with emergency medical crews took part in the rescue operation aimed at evacuating the vessel.“For safety reasons it was deemed necessary that we evacuate all 1170 passengers and crew members on board. At the present time no injuries have been reported and all of them have been taken off the ship safely,” a statement from Louise Cruise Lines said yesterday evening. The announcement also mentions that engineers from the Cyprus-based company were on their way to assess the situation.Most passengers were from the United States – a number of them US college students – and from
Germany.According to the Cypriot Foreign Ministry, two of a total crew of 391 were Cypriot.The vessel was towed off the rocks for the rescue to take place, while Santorini’s regional governor Chrysanthos Roussis said: “We managed to get the ship away from the rocks and tugged the vessel toward the main harbor. The situation has been stabilized.”Passengers said that they were taken from the ship in lifeboats.
American passenger Cliff Jones told the BBC what happened aboard the vessel at the time of the incident.“We were pulling into the port and I think the ship hit a few rocks. The ship tilted so far to the right the first five floors were flooded. We just waited at the top to be rescued,” he said.The Sea Diamond was due back at the port of Piraeus today after having embarked on a five-day island cruise from Greece’s main port on Monday.
The 22,412-tonne ship was built in Finland in 1986, and was significantly refurbished nearly a decade ago. It sails three, four, and seven-day cruises of the Greek
Investigators have begun interviewing the Sea Diamond’s captain and crew in connection with the accident. Mrs. Petralla said that whoever was responsible for the ccident would be held accountable “in the strictest way.”