A council of Greek military officers has absolved large charting errors by the country’s hydrographic office of responsibility for the sinking of the Louis Cruise Lines Sea Diamond in April, 2007 with the loss of two lives out of 1,200 passengers and crew on board. The finding conflicts with an earlier judicial finding that significant errors on Greek charts of the area played a key role in the disaster (See video in sidebar).
The council, or Junta, of Hellenic coast guard officers blamed the incident on negligence by the Master, Ioannis Marinos, first engineer Emmanuel Patsos and three employees of the ship’s operator, Core Marine.
The Investigative Council for Accidents at Sea, under the Ministry of Mercantile Marine, gave credence to testimony by the chief coastguard on Santorini that Sea Diamond “sailed very close to the rocky shore ‘with serious and clear danger for its safety’ and did not follow the course approved by the captain” and that “the course followed by the cruise liner – prior to hitting a reef – had not been followed by any other vessel in the past.”
It appears, however, that this apparently innocuous reef was a trojan horse on a Greek chart.
Following the incident Greek authorities defended the integrity of the navy-owned hydrographic office charts. Louis Cruise Lines contracted Greek survey company AKTI Engineering which discovered that the reef that gashed Sea Diamond was 131 metres from shore instead of the charted 57 metres, and at a depth of 3.5 metres to 5 metres instead of the charted 18 metres to 22 metres, a claimed denied by the Hellenic navy at the time.
While the tip of the bulbous bow is now just 62 metres below the sea surface her stern is at about 180 metres. There are concerns that she may slide off the ledge which currently supports her and into the steep-sided Santorini caldera, making it difficult, and certainly expensive, to recover potential pollutants still aboard.
Charges have been brought against Sea Diamond master Ioannis Marinos, and five of his officer, with the possibility of a five year jail term, but a trial date Has not yet been set. Marinos and Louis Cuise Lines have been fined a total of 1.17m Euros for environmental pollution by the Ministry of Mercantile Marine.
The junta argues among other things, that the ship’s depth sounder, fathomometer in the US, would have given warning of the reef, an argument that Louis Cruise Lines does not accept. Given the steep sides of the Santorini caldera they might have a point – depth sounders look under the keel, not forward.