Greek Ferry Crew Blames Sinking On Bad Weather

Friday, September 29, 2000
The crew of Greek ferry Express Samina that sank killing 72 people blamed the disaster on bad weather, saying the ship would not obey commands. "The weather threw me on the rocks," one of the charged crewmembers said.

The vessel's captain Vassilis Yannakis and three other crewmembers have been charged with manslaughter and were being held on Syros pending further investigation into how the ferry hit an islet and sunk shortly before reaching the island of Paros.

Authorities are still mulling over how the ship, which was carrying more than 500 passengers, could have hit a well-charted islet with a lighthouse less than two miles from the shore. Witnesses have expressed that some of the crewmembers had been watching a soccer game on television just before the accident occurred.

One crewmember said he was on the bridge at the time. When he realized bad weather was bringing the ship dangerously close to the islet he ordered the seaman holding the wheel to turn but with no result.

"I grabbed the wheel from the seaman's hands and tried to turn the ship but the weather would not allow it," he said. "It wasn't engine failure, it was because of the bad weather."

He said it took the ship half an hour to sink and rejected passenger accusations that the crew was not helpful, saying seamen selflessly rescued people.

"Whatever could be done, was done with care, with self sacrifice I could say," he said. The captain took responsibility for the shipwreck, and was apologetic for its repercussions.

"How can one not be outraged at a shipwreck that has cost so many lives just a mile and a half from the shore, in an area that any captain sailing in the Aegean is familiar with?" Greek Merchant Marine Minister Christos Papoutsis said at an Athens news conference.

The prosecutor on Syros, the administrative capital of the cluster of the Cycladic islands, will hear testimony from the accused on Sunday, decide whether further charges should be brought against them and whether to hold them pending trial.

Meanwhile as the rescue effort continues, divers on Friday found seven bodies in the wreck of the ferry, one sitting in a lifeboat wearing a lifevest. Others were found wearing vests in the halls of the ship and one was locked in a cabin and could not be recovered.

Another ferry, the Express Artemis, ran aground early on Friday as it was entering the port of the island of Naxos, near Paros. It later dislodged itself and was docked safely.

No one was injured. The captain attributed the grounding to mechanical failure.

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