Saturday, April 07, 2007

More Details On Cruise Ship Sinking

via Tuscaloosa News.

ATHENS, Greece | When he heard the news Friday about a cruise ship that sank off a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, Tuscaloosa tour director Terry Merritt remembered the time he had on the same ship a week earlier.

He had also had a rough time on a cruise in the waters off Santorini in that ship, the Sea Diamond. He was leading a group of about 86 people from Tuscaloosa on the cruise last week.

“We scraped some of the rocks because the winds were so bad," he recalled. “The seas are so rough there; it doesn’t surprise me that this happened."

Merritt, who owns Worldwide Travel and Tours in Tuscaloosa, said that he has cruised to Santorini about a dozen times before and that the island has always been a dangerous port of call because of its shallow waters and rough winds.

“As we were coming into port [last week], I looked over the side and wondered how the ship could navigate around the rocks and not gash a hole in the ship," he said. The waters are so shallow, he said, that the cruise ship must anchor off-port and use tender boats to ferry passengers on and off the island.

The captain of his cruise had so much trouble maneuvering around the rocks that the ship, which was supposed to dock for five hours at Santorini, could only stay half an hour.

“Everybody was upset," Merritt said. “It’s been a bad situation for a long time with people not being able to get off the ship. They need to dig that port deeper and dredge it."

So we have a port that is extremely dangerous to enter, and an outsized modern cruise ship trying to maneuver into that port. Not good.

In Thursday’s wreck, nearly 1,600 people were retrieved from the sinking ship in a three-hour rescue operation, but some passengers complained of an insufficient supply of life vests, little guidance from crewmembers and being forced into a steep climb down rope ladders to safety.

“The crew members were more scared than we were," said Lizbeth Mata, 15, a native of the Dominican Republic who was vacationing with her parents and brother. Mata said some crewmembers left before the passengers: “They were yelling and screaming -- didn’t know what to do."

It's to the crew's credit that only 2 of the passengers aren't accounted for during a major sea disaster. And really, are you going to spend most of the cruise doing training drills? It's unrealistic.

Merritt said he was not surprised that the ship foundered off Santorini.

“Anywhere else in the Mediterranean, I would have been surprised," he said. “I love the island, but it’s always been a dangerous port of call."

Sounds like smaller, more maneuverable ships are necessary if you're going to operate around Santorini, or perhaps dredging operations to make the port safer.

No comments: