Passengers rescued from cruise ship

More than 1,500 people, including hundreds of foreign tourists, were safely evacuated yesterday from a cruise ship that ran aground and began to list dangerously off the coast of the Cycladic island of Santorini. The Sea Diamond, which is operated by Cyprus-based Louis Hellenic Cruise Lines, appeared to have hit a reef near the port of Thira around 4 p.m. The collision damaged the hull and the ship took on water between decks 2 and 3, according to initial reports. A large rescue operation was launched after the captain sent out a distress call. The 143-meter cruise ship listed 12 degrees and a tugboat was needed to prevent the vessel from tilting further, taking on more water and possibly sinking. Some 1,170 passengers were taken to safety by several coast guard launches, small tourist vessels, fishing boats and a ro-ro ferry while five coast guard and navy helicopters circled overhead. The Blue Star passenger ferry Paros also sailed to the area to offer assistance. The mild weather facilitated rescue efforts and the passengers taken off the cruise liner included 730 Americans, 112 Spaniards, 100 French and other nationalities, including Germans, Britons and Australians. Many had to climb down escape ladders onto waiting boats that carried them to dry land. No injuries were reported. The Sea Diamond had begun cruises to the Greek island on March 9. It was built in 1986 but had been extensively refurbished in 1999 and was bought by Louis Hellenic Cruise Lines last year. The Louis group owns 13 cruise ships and 26 four- and five-star hotels in Greece. Two British children died of gas poisoning at one of the group’s hotels on the Ionian island of Corfu last October. The company said that another cruise ship was on its way to Santorini last night to pick up the stranded tourists. Tourism Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia said that efforts were being made to secure overnight accommodation on the island for all the passengers. Meanwhile, a sailor was killed during a routine safety drill on a cruise ship anchored in port on Corfu. The 47-year-old Filipino was killed when the ropes attaching a lifeboat snapped. The seaman was not named. Three Ukrainian seamen on the Bahamas-flagged Astoria were also injured in the accident, which is being investigated. Two of the sailors were taken to a local hospital. None of the 531 passengers was injured.

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