Passengers Say Crew Abandoned Sinking Cruise Ship
EAST LONDON, South Africa (AP) _ Angry passengers said Monday that some officers and crew members grabbed the first available lifeboat and abandoned hundreds of people on a Greek cruise liner that later sank in stormy seas.
All of the more than 570 passengers and crew were confirmed safe, said Ian Hunter, managing director of TFC Tours of Johannesburg, which leased the Oceanos liner.
Those aboard the ship were rescued in a dramatic operation Sunday that was completed only 90 minutes before the ship sank a mile from the country’s Indian Ocean coast near the village of Coffee Bay.
Passengers praised rescue efforts by the South African military and tour company officials aboard the ship, but said they were outraged with the behavior of the crew.
They claimed crew members took the ship’s only two motorized lifeboats, leaving tourists to try to launch regular lifeboats. Also, many complained that no announcements were made during the 12-hour ordeal.
″They left us in the lurch. They knew ... the ship was going to sink and didn’t say a thing,″ passenger Kevin Ellis said of the crew. ″All the crew who knew how to operate lifeboats had gone.″
Many passengers said the chief engineer and other officers were among the first to abandon ship.
Capt. Yiannis Avranas was not among the first to leave, but passengers said he left while there were still many tourists on board. Avranas defended his action, saying he had to direct the rescue effort from shore.
″I don’t care what these people say about me. I am separated from my family, who were rescued by one of the other ships, and I lost my own ship - what more do they want?″ he told reporters late Sunday night.
″When I order abandon ship, it doesn’t matter what time I leave,″ Avranas said in a separate interview with ABC-TV. ″Abandon is for everybody. If some people like to stay, they can stay.″
After most crew members abandoned ship, employees and entertainers of the South African TFC tour company, which leased the Oceanos, reportedly took over, launching lifeboats and helping people who were airlifted by helicopters.
Magician Robin Boltman took the bridge and monitored radio traffic, and musician Moss Hill tried to keep passengers calm by playing Beatles songs on an acoustic guitar, passengers said.
Epirotiki Lines, the Greek owners of the Oceanos, said the evacuation took place according to a plan that called for non-essential crew and younger passengers to be the first into lifeboats.
″These passengers also had to board cargo ships from the lifeboats, which required substantial crew assistance,″ said Capt. Alevizos Klaudatos, an Epirotiki spokesman.
Remaining passengers stayed on board in relative safety and were lifted off the ship by helicopter, Klaudatos said.
″Our prime concern was to evacuate the passengers, which was successful,″ he added.
Transport Ministry officials said they were try to determine why the ship began taking on water late Saturday night in a heavy storm with 24-foot waves.
The ministry also said it was investigating a bomb threat made against the ship Friday night.
Military officials said they did not know why the ship sank, but said its proximity to shore suggested it may have hit a reef off the dangerous ″Wild Coast.″
Avranas said a piston in the engine room burst, knocking a hole in the hull.
In the rescue operation, military helicopters airlifted more than 200 people off the ship, and more than 300 were pulled from the sea or from life rafts.
The 7,554-ton Oceanos - 495 feet long and 64 feet wide - was carrying mostly South African passengers. It had left East London on Saturday for Durban.