JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ A cruise-ship director today credited crew members with preventing a disaster on the Oceanos liner, even though the captain and other officers abandoned ship with passengers still aboard.

Meanwhile, three Greek coast guard officers flew to South Africa today to investigate the sinking of the Greek cruise ship and the allegations that many crew members deserted the ship and its passengers.

Epirotiki Lines, the ship's owner, denied the captain and crew abandoned the Oceanos. ''We are really proud of the way in which the captain, the officers and our crew implemented the rescue plan despite the adverse conditions they faced,'' the company said in a statement.

Cruise director Lorraine Betts of TFC Tours, who had been aboard the ill- fated ship, said most of the crew acted professionally in the rescue of all 571 people aboard.

''I can't believe those people did what they did,'' she said of air force and navy rescuers, crew members, TFC staff and passengers. TFC had leased the Greek liner.

Many passengers and other TFC employees, however, criticized the crew members who deserted the Oceanos soon after it lost power and took on water Saturday night.

It sank Sunday afternoon, about 90 minutes after everyone on board had been pulled from life rafts or picked up with harnesses by military helicopters from the listing vessel amid strong winds and powerful waves.

Passengers hailed Ms. Betts, 35, for her efforts in organizing the rescue and keeping people calm.

Ms. Betts told a news conference the more than 170 crew members on the ship had specific assignments in an emergency, and many were required to operate the eight lifeboats and four rafts on the Oceanos.

One group of officers and crew, estimated to number about three dozen, rushed to a lifeboat and left the sinking vessel soon after Capt. Yiannis Avranas sounded the emergency Saturday night, she said.

Avranas was unaware the lifeboat had left without instructions from the bridge, Ms. Betts said.

Other officers and crew members, from the staff captain to waiters and cooks, helped operate the lifeboats and assist passengers during the storm- tossed hours, she said.

About 50 crew members and TFC staff joined her in getting passengers to lifeboats, keeping people calm and talking by radio with others ships that answsered the Oceanos' distress call, Ms. Betts said.

Avranas gave orders from the bridge until about 9 a.m. Sunday, she said, when he was airlifted by helicopter harness. As many as 170 people were still on board at the time, awaiting rescue by helicopter, she said.

Avranas told Ms. Betts he would attempt to get a rescue ship near the Oceanos, but she did not hear from him again.

Christos Nikolaou, the second-in-command, told The Associated Press the crew acted properly. Crew members gathered all passengers in the main lounge minutes after engines discovered water flooding the generator room, he said.

He said Avranas did not sound a general alarm for fear of panicking passengers.

''Huge amounts of water were coming in and we sealed the watertight doors and isolated all the ship's compartments,'' he said. He added he did not know why the ship took on water.

Avranas has said a piston burst in the engine room, damaging the hull.

Nikolaou said the captain turned the ship toward shore and dropped both its anchors in an effort to stabilize it. Life vests were issued to passengers, he said, and the crew lowered eight large lifeboats, three with motors and five with oars.

The first passengers, women and children, began boarding within 10 minutes, he said.