ATHENS, Greece – The captain of a cruise ship that sank in the Aegean Sea was charged Saturday with negligence, a government official said.
A Merchant Marine Ministry spokeswoman confirmed that a prosecutor charged the captain but said she could not confirm a report on state NET TV that five other officers also were charged. She spoke anonymously according to customary government policy. Two French passengers are missing after the Sea Diamond hit rocks and foundered Thursday near Santorini island. The rest of the 1,154 passengers and 391 crew were safely evacuated.
If upheld in court, the charges carry a maximum five-year sentence.
Nearly 1,600 people were retrieved from the sinking ship Thursday in a three-hour rescue operation after the vessel foundered on a volcanic reef, but some passengers complained of an insufficient supply of life vests, little guidance from crew members and being forced into a steep climb down rope-ladders to safety.
The 469-foot Sea Diamond struck rocks Thursday in the sea-filled crater formed by a volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago off the island, sinking about a quarter-mile off the coast, in waters of uneven depth, a few minutes before it was to dock.
The captain, chief mate, second mate, third mate, chief cabin steward, and housekeeper of the Greek-flagged vessel were arrested after the accident, the Merchant Marine Ministry spokeswoman said earlier Saturday.
All six are Greek, according to the cruise company, Greece-based Louis Hellenic Cruises. The company had no comment on the charges and did not release the suspects' names.
The ministry spokeswoman had said the captain and the five others were appearing before the prosecutor on the nearby island of Naxos: "The testimony process has started, and the prosecutor is examining all the documents from the initial investigation."
She said the search continued for Jean-Christophe Allain, 45, and his 16-year-old daughter, Maud, from Doue-la-Fontaine in western France. Officials were also cleaning up fuel that leaked out of the 21-year-old vessel, which sank 15 hours after the accident.
"The vessel maintained the highest level of safety standards and was equipped with the latest navigation systems," said Giorgos Stathopoulos, spokesman for the ship's Cyprus-based operator, Louis Cruise Lines.
The ship underwent its last annual survey on March 9, and had been issued safety management and security certificates by Norway's Det Norske Veritas ship classification society, according to a DNV press release
Thursday's evacuation was the largest Greek rescue operation since the September 2000 Express Samina ferry disaster, which killed 80 people near the holiday island of Paros when it struck rocks in the night and sank.
Some passengers complained of an insufficient supply of life vests, little guidance from crew members and being forced into a steep climb down rope-ladders to safety.
Most of the passengers were American, but there also were groups from Canada and Spain.