World News

Area Students Safe After Greek Cruise Ship Runs Aground

Posted April 5, 2007 10:12 a.m. EDT
Updated April 5, 2007 6:45 p.m. EDT

— Dozens of North Carolina high school students were taken off a cruise ship Thursday that was taking on water off the Greek island of Santorini.

No injuries were reported aboard the Sea Diamond, which hit a reef in a lagoon near the main port of the island. About 1,200 passengers and a crew of 400 were on the ship.

About 22 Chapel Hill High School students were aboard the ship as part of a trip arranged by English teacher Anne Thompson, said Stephanie Knott, spokeswoman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. The trip wasn't sponsored by the high school or the district, she said.

EF Educational Tours booked the cruise through Louis Cruise Lines, which owns the Sea Diamond, Knott said.

David Land, a senior at Middle Creek High School, was on the ship with a group of AP English students, said his mother, Deniece Land. She said students from Middle Creek and Apex High School also were on the ship.

Jennifer Falk, a teacher at Southeast Raleigh High School, also was on the ship with a group of freshman history students and their parents, said her daughter, Jessica Falk.

"All passengers and crew members are on shore of the island of Santorini. All are doing fine and are waiting for two ships to pick them up and take them back to Athens," Jessica Falk said.

“We are aware that there might be some students from Wake Co aboard the ship, and we’re very glad that they appear to be OK. Since this is not a school system sanctioned activity, we have limited information about what is happening,” said Chip Sudderth, a spokesman for the Wake County school system.

Officials with Apex High couldn't be reached for comment, and an official with Middle Creek High said the school wasn't sponsoring a trip to Greece.

A group of 77 students, parents and faculty from Paisley Magnet School in Winston-Salem also were on the ship, Forsyth County Schools officials said.

David Land called home on his cell phone Thursday morning to report that his room aboard the ship was underwater and that all of his belongings other than his phone and digital camera were gone, Deniece Land said.

"I said, 'Don't play with me,'" Deniece Land said, recalling the phone conversation. "I said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'No, really. The ship is sinking, and I just got a life vest on.'"

When she agreed to allow her son to take his first trip abroad, they were more worried about the international flight than the time aboard the cruise ship.

David Land told WRAL in a cell phone interview that he was in the Sea Diamond's dining room when the ship hit the reef.

"First, we thought we were making a sharp turn. But then we saw people running up the stairs with life vests on, pushing people out of the way," Land said, adding that he didn't have time to go back to his room to grab his belongings. "My personal room is in the bottom corner of the ship, and that is where it started sinking. ... My stuff is pretty much gone, and you can see several bags floating."

Giorgos Stathopoulos, spokesman for Louis Cruise Lines, a Cyprus-based company that operates the 469-foot vessel said the ship had taken on water and listed 12 degrees but was stabilized when watertight doors were activated..

"All the passengers are off the ship safely, and everything is OK," Stathopoulos said.

Most of the passengers were from North America, with groups of U.S. college students on board, he said.

About half of the ship's passengers climbed down ladders to other ships, while the rest slid down inflated ramps, David Land said.

"Everybody was panicking, and only about one-third of the people on the ship spoke English," he said. "The name of the boat is underwater on one side, and you can see under the boat on the other side." 

The cruise ship left the port of Piraeus on Monday for a five-day island cruise and was due back to Greece's main port on Friday, officials said. Before reaching Santorini, the ship had stopped at the Greek islands of Rhodes and Mykonos and the Turkish resort of Kusadasi.

Most of the Sea Diamond's passengers and crew were evacuated by a small ferry and other boats to Santorini's main port.

Santorini's regional governor, Chrysanthos Roussis, said tugboats had been used to pull the ship free of rocks.

More than a dozen ships in the area were involved. Six navy rescue helicopters, two military transport plane and four warships also were been sent to the area, along with emergency medical crews.

Two ships were expected to arrive at Santorini by late Thursday to take the evacuated passengers back to the Greek mainland.

"Nobody has anything. You were lucky if you got your wallet," David Land said. "A lot of people, they had towels on. They were in showers."