2 Missing After Greek Cruise Ship Sinks

(CBS News) SANTORINI, Greece A Mediterranean cruise ship that struck a volcanic reef and forced the evacuation of hundreds of tourists sank on Friday, 15 hours after it began taking on water off the coast of the Greek island of Santorini.

A Frenchman and his daughter were missing, officials said. Navy divers searched around the sunken wreckage for the two. They were identified as Jean-Christophe Allain, 45, and his 16-year-old daughter, Maud. The death throes of the Sea Diamond were broadcast around the world Friday morning, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips.
Passengers on Thursday climbed down rope ladders to coast guard boats below in a three-hour rescue that involved Greece’s military, commercial ships and the island’s local fishermen. About 700 of the 1,200 passengers on the five-day cruise were American, many of them students. There were also groups from Canada and Spain. Tourism Minister Fanny Palli Petralia said she had spoken with the missing passenger’s wife.

30-students and chaparones, on Spring Break, from Marina High School in Huntington Beach were on-board. Everyone pretty much lost everything they brought with them, but are all safe. The Canadians on-board, mainly high school students from Quebec and Alberta, all got safely off the listing ship before it went down. The Alberta group, from Tofield School east of Edmonton, included 22-students ranging in age from 15-18, as well as two teachers and two adult chaperons. They are expected to continue with the last few days of their trip and will return home Tuesday. The group from Montreal’s Lester B. Pearson High School included approximately 38-students who were also accompanied by teachers and chaperons. They are expected to return to Canada on Easter Sunday. The students were taken to Santorini, where they were fed before being taken back to Athens to board another ship.


"The lady said her cabin filled with water when the ship struck rocks and that she narrowly escaped," Petralia said. "She was not sure whether her husband and daughter made it out because things happened so suddenly … in a few seconds. Her other child was up on deck and was evacuated safely."


Those rescued said most people remained calm though there were some tense moments. The Sea Diamond struck rocks in the sea-filled crater formed by a volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago. But the waters are well-charted, reports Phillips.


The Sea Diamond was built in 1986 and refurbished in 1999. The ship’s operator, Louis Cruise Lines, insisted the 21-year-old vessel had been well maintained. "The vessel maintained the highest level of safety standards and was equipped with the latest navigation systems," spokesman Giorgos Stathopoulos said.


Investigators were questioning the captain and three officers about Thursday’s crash into rocks, which are marked with warning lights and clearly indicated on navigation charts.


"We realized there was a serious problem … We exited our cabin and it was tough to be able to walk out of the ship. A lot of people were very emotional over it, upset, very frightened," said Stephen Johnson, a Canadian passenger.


"It was a loud noise of course and then I stepped outside of my cabin and looked and the water was coming down the hallway," said passenger Tom Gatch.


An Australian passenger, Katie Sumner, said the early stages of the rescue were chaotic. "We heard a big shudder and then the whole boat started to tilt," Sumner said.


"All of our glasses were sliding everywhere and our warning that the ship was sinking was some of the staff running down the corridor screaming out ‘life jackets’ and banging on doors, so we got no time to, sort of, get ready or anything. We just left as we were."


The 469-foot Sea Diamond was operated by Louis Cruise Lines, part of a Cyprus-based tourism group. The Merchant Marine Ministry said 1,195 passengers and 391 crew members were on-board.


"Whoever is responsible for this will be held accountable in the strictest way," Petralia said. "Greece is a major tourism destination, and incidents like this must not be allowed to occur. … Authorities handled the rescue very well."


Most of the rescued passengers arrived at Athens’ main port of Piraeus on Friday on a chartered ferry and a Louis cruise ship. Authorities on Santorini said they were working to contain a small oil spillage from the sunken ship. The Sea Diamond’s captain and three officers were being interviewed Friday by coast guard investigators who flew to Santorini.

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About Ask Marion

I am a babyboomer and empty nester who savors every moment of my past and believes that it is the responsibility of each of us in my generation and Americans in general to make sure that America is as good or even a better place for future generations as it was for us. So far... we haven't done very well!! Favorite Quotes: "The first 50 years are to build and acquire; the second 50 are to leave your legacy"; "Do something that scares you every day!"; "The journey in between what you once were and who you are becoming is where the dance of life really takes place".
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