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Two French tourists missing after cruise ship sinks; captain charged over unusual accident

Apr 9, 2007 |

Two French tourists are missing, feared drowned, following the sinking of a cruise ship off Santorini early Friday. The accident has led to the vessel’s captain and five crew members being charged with negligence and local authorities considering legal action over the impact on the marine environment.

Despite initial assertions on Thursday by the Cyprus-based Louis Hellenic Cruise Lines, the company that owns the sunken Sea Diamond, that all 1,156 passengers had been rescued from the ship within four hours of it striking a reef, it later emerged that two passengers had not been accounted for.

They were named as 45-year-old Frenchman Jean-Christophe Allain and his 16-year-old daughter Maud from Doue-la-Fontaine in western France. The missing man’s wife and the couple’s son managed to leave the sinking ship safely.

The woman told authorities that she had escaped the family’s lower deck cabin as it began filling with water and thought that her husband and daughter were right behind her.

Navy divers attempted to find the bodies of the two tourists but were unsuccessful. Authorities are planning to use a remote-controlled submersible today to establish whether the ship’s hulk, which is lying at a depth of some 120 meters, has come to rest and if it is safe for divers to search inside the wreck.

The Sea Diamond hit a charted reef at about 4 p.m. on Thursday while on its way to dock at the port of Athinio. The 143-meter ship soon began to list and a rescue operation was mounted.

The passengers, mostly from the USA, Spain and France, were evacuated with the help of local vessels. Some passengers complained that the crew failed to provide assistance during the evacuation.

The operation, in which 391 crew members also abandoned the ship, took between three and four hours. The Sea Diamond sunk in the early hours of Friday morning.

The ship’s captain and five crew members have been charged with causing a shipwreck through negligence, breaching international shipping safety regulations and polluting the environment. All the offenses are classified as misdemeanors and the six men have been released pending the investigation.

The captain is reported to have told a prosecutor on Naxos that a sudden current had pushed the vessel off course. Authorities are investigating claims that he delayed asking for help after striking the reef.

Santorini Mayor Angelos Roussos is expected to file a suit today against the ship’s owners in connection with the pollution caused by the sinking. There are some 430 tons of fuel in the ship’s tanks, which authorities want to drain as quickly as possible, fearing that the vessel may sink to a deeper depth.

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