German Cruise Ship Runs Aground

May 5, 2008

Update, 2 p.m. EST -- Passengers have been successfully evacuated from Mona Lisa. The ship is still aground.

Mona Lisa, a cruise ship carrying German passengers, ran aground on a sandbar off the coast of Latvia this weekend and that country's coast guard has begun to evacuate. The ship, built in 1966 and operated by German Nelson Seereisen, a charter company, is stuck in the Irbe Strait, a main route from the Baltic Sea to Latvia.

The operation, according to a report by the Associated Press, involves transferring the nearly 1,000 passengers onto two naval ships. The passengers will be taken to Latvia's Venspils, a port city on the country's northwestern coast, and then will be bused to Riga.

Once passengers are offloaded -- and when currents permit -- Mona Lisa will then be towed from the sandbar. Operators have already drained the vessel of oil in an effort to lighten it.

There have been no injuries.

The 28,891-ton, 994-passenger Mona Lisa was built in Scotland and originally was part of the Swedish America Line fleet. The ship was sold to the U.K.'s P&O in 1978. There the ship was called Sea Princess and it alternated between P&O and Princess Cruises before being renamed Victoria. Ultimately, the ship was sold on.

These days it is let out to charter operations like the German tour company whose passengers are onboard. Its best known company is The Scholar Ship, a group of seven universities around the world, including the University of California Berkeley, that gives students each year a chance to experience semester-long academic world cruises.