Oil From Sunken Cruise Ship Threatens Aegean Environment

SANTORINI, Greece, April 12, 2007 (ENS) - The Greek government has intensified its efforts to stop an oil leak from the sunken cruise ship Sea Diamond. The vessel has already spilled more than 118 metric tons of fuel near the Aegean island of Santorini, one of Greece's most popular tourist destinations.

Nearly 540 metric tons of oil remain onboard the vessel, which lies upside down in a volcanic crater some 150 meters (325 feet) deep.

A remote-controlled submersible Wednesday began recording images of the sunken vessel in an attempt to give officials the information they need to deal with the oil still aboard the wreck.

The site where the Sea Diamond sank and now lies beneath the surface. (Photo credit unknown)
The 22,412 ton vessel, operated by Louis Cruise Lines, struck well-marked rocks on April 5. More than 1,156 passengers, most of them Americans, and 391 members of crew were evacuated safely.

The Sea Diamond sank early in the morning of April 6.

Authorities said two French passengers - a 45 year-old man and his 16-year-old daughter - are still missing and are feared drowned. The man's wife and son narrowly escaped the stricken ship.

The Greek government at first declared the operation a success, but as the oil leak spread from the vessel, Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis made more oil cleanup resources available. "The situation is under control for the moment," he said today after visiting Santorini.

Floating barriers one and a half kilometers (one mile) in length have been placed in the sea to contain the oil, and six vessels are collecting oil from the sea.

Vassilis Mamaloukas, the oceanographer who is leading the oil cleanup operation for the private Greek contractor Environmental Protection Engineering SA, said oil is still leaking from the ship.

Santorini Mayor Angelos Roussos said the municipal council will hire a legal firm to monitor the oil spill cleanup. Island officials are considering a lawsuit if the ecosystem is damaged.

A Greek prosecutor on the island of Naxos has charged the Sea Diamond captain Yiannis Marinos and five other crew with misdemeanor negligence.

They are accused of causing a shipwreck through negligence, causing pollution to the sea through negligence, and failing to apply international regulations on avoiding collisions.

The captain has reportedly blamed strong currents for driving the ship up on the reef.


The Sea Diamond cruised the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. (Photo courtesy Louis Hellenic Cruises)
Louis Cruises representative Chief Captain Giorgos Koubenas told reporters Wednesday that the shipwreck was "a human mistake."

"This incident happened due to a human mistake as the 75 percent of the incidents that occur in the sea," Koubenas said.

Minister of Tourism Development Fani Petralia said that there will be severe punishments for the incident. "We have all to realize that negligence and offhandedness are two characteristics that do not comply with the picture of a hospitable and safe country as Greece is," she said.

Louis Hellenic Cruises said in a statement that the company "continues to cooperate closely with the relevant authorities in Greece and is committed to fully investigating the causes of this accident."

The Sea Diamond was built in 1986 and was refurbished in 1999. She joined Louis Hellenic Cruises' fleet in 2006. The company said, "The vessel maintained the highest level of safety standards and was equipped with the latest navigation systems."