Ferry crew provide differing accounts

Senior crew members of the Theophilos passenger ferry, which hit a reef in the eastern Aegean on Saturday, yesterday offered conflicting versions about what was to blame for the accident after Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis heralded stricter penalties for officials found guilty of causing shipping accidents. According to sources, the captain of the Theophilos yesterday told port authority officials on Chios that he had given precise instructions for the ship’s course – from Lesvos to Piraeus via Chios – but that these had not been followed by the vessel’s first mate, who had been in charge when the accident occurred. Another crew member who had been on the ship’s bridge on Saturday evening said the ferry had been on the right course but that a strong wind had turned it toward the reef. Marine experts say that a strong gust of wind, or undersea current, may indeed have pushed the ship off its course. But they said it was just as likely that the official in charge had miscalculated the vessel’s position and direction. It was unclear what the first mate said in his testimony yesterday. Meanwhile Achilleas Tarlamis, the general secretary of the Masters and Mates Union of the Greek Merchant Marine, appeared to defend the Theophilos crew members’ actions. The decision to ask passengers to don their life jackets and the cancellation of the evacuation by lifeboat has been widely criticized. Many union members condemned Voulgarakis’s decision to increase penalties for accidents at sea, and to reassess officer training, describing it as an overreaction. Divers were yesterday patching up the gash in the Theophilos, currently anchored off Oinousses, so that it may be towed to Chios for proper repairs.