Ships 2

Sea Diamond

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Sinking Cruise Ship Sea Diamond

Sinking Of The Cruise Ship Sea Diamond

By James Donahue

Photographer Michael Hipler who shot vivid images of the five-deck, 469-foot-long Greek cruise ship Sea Diamond after it struck a rocky outcrop and sank in a volcanic caldera at the Island of Santorini, said he could not believe what he was watching.

The date was April 5, 2007 and Hipler was aboard a second cruise liner, the Aegean Two, which was arriving at the same island port of Thia and following the same four-day course, taking passengers on a week-long island-hopping cruise in the Aegean Sea.

Hipler said he didn’t like the lines of the Sea Diamond even though it was a newer and faster ship than the vessel he chose to take on the cruise. “After we left Iraklion the Sea Diamond overtook us on the way to Santorini. At high speed the proud ship did throw a high bow wave while plowing through the quite calm sea. Even though I am not fond of her lines I was considerate enough to take a video of her passing us,” he wrote.

From the top deck of the Aegean Two, Hipler said he stood with his brother, watching the Sea Diamond “making her last move under her own power. I said to my brother that from this angle her bow looked definitely even more ugly, as due to the curve of her fat short bow, the tip of the bow seemed to point downwards.”

It wasn’t long before Hipler realized this was not an optical illusion. The Sea Diamond had rammed a rocky reef and ripped a hole in her side. The ship was taking on water and taking on a distinct starboard list. From this vantage point Hipler photographed the disaster unfolding in front of his eyes.

On the decks of the Sea Diamond chaos broke out as the 1,195 passengers, mostly Americans and Canadians, felt the tilting of the deck and received word on the ship’s intercom that the vessel was taking on water. Everyone was instructed to put on life jackets and prepare to get off the ship.

Fortunately the doomed liner was already at its planned anchorage of Thira and a flotilla of local tenders were already surrounding it, preparing to take off passengers. Hipler noticed that the Sea Diamond did not drop her anchors, and consequently drifted back into the reef which caused it to list even farther. He said a powerful tug was used to pull it free of the reef the second time.

The passengers were forced to disembark using rope ladders thrown over the side of the listing ship.  Hipler said he also saw them escaping through a hatch in the hull and another larger hatch in the stern. They dropped into the waiting boats and the ship’s own lifeboats.

In Better Times

By 16:45 both big lifeboats had been lowered on port side. The passengers were disembarked via a low hatch in the hull into the tenders. At the same time this must have happened on starboard side plus there had also life boats been lowered. All but two passengers got off the ship before it sank. Four were injured.

Two French passengers, Jean Christophe Allain, 45, and his daughter, Maud, 16, went missing and were never found. Allain’s wife, who barely escaped, said their cabin below deck flooded when the ship struck the rocks.

That the accident occurred in a volcanic caldera made it impossible for tugs to beach the liner and save it from sinking. It went down in about 180 meters of water.

The captain and five other officers were charged with negligence, failing to follow international shipping safety standards and polluting the environment. The owners, the Louis Hellenic Cruise Lines, were fined $1.17 million pounds for causing marine pollution. Litigation on behalf of passengers also is pending.

The Sea Diamond was originally built in 1986 in Finland as the Birka Princess, a cruise vessel and car ferry that operated between Stockholm, Sweden and the Aland Islands, Finland. The ship later made summer cruises on the Baltic Sea.

The ship was refitted in 1999 with an extra deck of 62 additional cabins above the bridge. It was sold and given its final name in February 2006.