Local News

Tourists Home With Hugs and Smiles While Captain Blames the Sea for Sinking

Posted April 8, 2007 2:02 p.m. EDT
Updated April 8, 2007 2:04 p.m. EDT

— Students and adults who finished an Aegean Sea cruise by being rescued from a sinking liner were settling back into their home routines Sunday as Greek television reported that the ship's captain had blamed strong currents for pushing his vessel aground on the rocky island of Santorini.

About 30 people from Triangle-area high schools were among 128 North Carolinians on the ship. The local travelers arrived at Raleigh-Durham International Airport Saturday afternoon to hugs and amid tears from them and their loved ones. A third group of students from Middle Creek High School returned later Saturday.

State-run NET television in Athens quoted from what it said were excerpts of his deposition to a public prosecutor on the island of Naxos, blaming currents off the volcanic island for the accident.

"I felt the ship, which had been on a normal course, slip to the right because of sea currents," NET quoted him as saying. "I gave the order for a full turn left. But there was not enough time for the ship to respond."

Two French tourists were still missing from the Thursday crash.

The homecoming at RDU was an emotional one for the group of parents, students and teachers from Southeast Raleigh High School and Chapel Hill High School.

"I've never felt so emotional before, especially in front of a bunch of people," said Southeast Raleigh High student Vallyn Murphy. "But I just feel so lucky to be out, to be here for Easter, to have my parents here—and they're crying—it's just a beautiful feeling."

"We were all applauding the whole flight, practically," one passenger said. "We were just so happy to be coming home. It felt pretty good."

The 469-foot Sea Diamond struck a well-marked and charted reef, in fair weather, inside Santorini's sea-filled volcanic crater.

"We hit a rock," Murphy said. "I was on the 10th floor, taking pictures, and I saw this cloud of oil, I guess it was, go into the water."

Nearly 1,600 people were rescued from the ship Thursday in a three-hour rescue operation after the vessel foundered on a volcanic reef.

The captain was indicted along with five other crew members on blanket charges of causing a shipwreck through negligence, breaching international shipping safety regulations and polluting the environment, the Cyclades islands public prosecution office said. All have been released pending further testimony.

Most of the ship's passengers were American, but also included groups from Canada, Britain, Spain, France, Australia, and the Dominican Republic.