November 19, 2008
A year after Cyprus-based Louis Cruise Lines blamed a faulty map for the grounding and subsequent sinking of Sea Diamond off the island of Santorini in April 2007, new evidence has emerged to support the claim.
The back story: In November 2007, Louis blamed "erroneous mapping information" as the cause of the accident after commissioning a hydrographic survey from Greece's AKTI Engineering. The survey revealed that the reef Sea Diamond hit -- causing it take on water and eventually sink -- was both further from shore and larger than estimated on an official undersea map from the Hellenic Navy Hydrographic Service.
The Navy initially rejected claims that the map was inaccurate, and it was widely believed that finding the Navy was at fault would prove difficult. However, a new hydrographic survey carried out by the Hydrographic Office of the Hellenic Navy -- the official government authority for conducting hydrographic surveys in Greek waters and issuing nautical charts -- has now confirmed the findings of AKTI.
According to an official statement from the cruise line, the reef in question is actually located 131 meters from the coastline, instead of only 57 meters as was marked on the official map with which all ships were equipped (Hellenic Hydrographic Service nautical chart no. 423/8). Also, the official map indicated the depth at the point of impact was 18 to 22 meters; surveys have now shown that it is between 3.5 and 5 meters.
This is a major turn of events, as the development could vindicate the captain and five officers who face negligence charges in connection with the sinking and, if convicted, a maximum sentence of five years. However, it is important to note that a trial had not been set pending the final outcome of investigations -- including new mapping of the area.
Louis Cruise Lines spokesperson Michael Maratheftis tells us that currently "there are no proceedings against the ship owner and ship manager of MV Sea Diamond ... no doubt the judicial authorities will wish to seriously consider this highly important new evidence before deciding on whether or not to continue with criminal proceedings against the [captain] and any other parties."
Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry also fined parent company Louis Group and Greek captain Yiannis Marinos a total of 1.17 million euros ($1.57 million) for environmental pollution two months after Sea Diamond sank.
Cruise Critic's Greece-based correspondent Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis says that the findings were addressed rather quietly in the news, with the global credit crunch dominating local papers, but not among mariners whose reputations were on the line. "Naturally, proving that the maps were wrong put the fault on the Navy," Gleeson-Adamidis tells us via e-mail. "The ship had moved further toward land to give room for another passing vessel and the maps showed the water was deeper than it actually was.
"Orders have been given to update [the maps] and that is now what officials are in the process of doing in order to be ready for the tourist season next spring."
Louis initially cited human error as the probable cause of the accident before shifting focus to potentially faulty navigational maps.
--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor