URGENT Gunmen Fire Aboard Cruise Ship; 9 Killed, 98 Wounded
PIRAEUS, Greece (AP) _ Three gunmen sprayed automatic gunfire and hurled hand grenades at hundreds of tourists aboard a Greek cruise ship Monday, killing at least nine people and wounding 98. The attackers fled on a speedboat.
Earlier Monday, an explosion killed two men and destroyed a car parked near a marina where the cruise ship, the City of Poros, was to dock in the Athens seaside surburb of Paleo Faliron.
A senior Greek police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: ″We are assuming the two attacks are connected, but there’s no hard evidence for that so far.″
He said no one had claimed responsibility for the ship attack.
A Merchant Marine Ministry spokesman said 400 of the 471 people aboard were accounted for, but some who jumped ship during the attack were still missing. Police earlier said 571 passengers were on the ship.
″People who jumped overboard to escape are still being brought in by other ships so we don’t yet know how may still be missing,″ said Piraeus Mayor Andreas Andrianopoulos.
The ministry spokesman, who also demanded anonymity, said no Americans were among the injured. A list of passengers was not available, however. Harbor officials said no Americans were on the ship.
The ship’s owner, A. Kyrtatos, could not be reached and the company’s central Athens office remained closed after the attack. A Merchant Marine Ministry official said the company had not provided the ship’s manifest.
The attack occurred at 8:40 p.m. (1:40 p.m. EDT) as the City of Poros was returning from a one-day cruise to the islands of Poros, Hydra and Aegina.
The ministry spokesman said 15 of the injured were in serious condition with bullet and shrapnel wounds.
″None of the dead tourists has been identified. Most of the injured are French; there are no Americans injured,″ he said.
He said 50 passengers remained hospitalized. They were 34 French, 3 Jordanians, 3 Danes, 2 Britons, 2 Norwegians, 1 Moroccan, 1 Swiss and 1 Swede. The nationalities of the other three were not immediately known.
Police said three people died from bullet wounds in Piraeus hospitals and six others were found dead on the deck the cruise ship’s deck. At least three of the dead were foreigners. Only one of the dead was immediately identified, as the ship’s first mate, Antonis Demaizis.
Merchant Marine Minister Evangelos Yiannopoulos condemned the attack as ″a barbarous action of a particularly hateful kind″ and said coast guard patrols were searching harbors and marinas for the speedboat.
The ship had left the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf and was steaming back to the Trocadero marina in Paleo Faliron, port police said. Passengers were sunning themselves on the deck when the gunmen opened fire.
A Swedish passenger who asked not to be identified said he saw a swarthy man in his early 20s pull an automatic weapon from his backpack and open fire as he ran along the deck.
″Then he threw two hand grenades and fire broke out and the deck caved in. There were burning sheets of metal falling on the people in the saloon below,″ said the tourist, who was bruised but otherwise unhurt.
Passengers Jean Wogewda of Lorient, France, and his wife Natalie, were both wounded in the gunfire. Wogewda was shot in both legs but managed to crawl away.
″I was on deck when I heard automatic fire. I turned around and was thrown into the air by the impact of the bullets hitting my legs,″ Wogewda said as he lay in a Piraeus hospital.
″I saw the man who was shooting and I couldn’t believe it and thought it was a joke. When I saw others falling to the deck, it turned out to be real.
″I only saw one gunman as he reloaded his weapon. Then he hurled a grenade at the ship’s smoke stack setting off a fire. Then he approached my group and started firing at us again,″ he said.
Police said three gunmen took part in the attack.
Wogewda said panic set in and many passengers scattered quickly for cover. Others grabbed life jackets and jumped over the railing and into the water.
In the confusion, the gunmen slipped off the liner, boarded a speedboat that had pulled alongside and sped away, police said.
Ships in the vicinity, including Greek navy destroyers on maneuvers, rushed to the area, plucked passengers from the warm Mediterranean waters and took them to the port of Piraeus, 16 miles away.
The 208-foot City of Poros, smoke pouring from its side, steamed to Piraeus at full speed.
Police said the two men killed in the explosion that destroyed the parked car were believed to be of Arab origin. The car had been rented to a 36-year- old Lebanese man, Hamoud Al Hamid, police said.
The car contained explosives, hand grenades and automatic weapons, police said.
An amateur photographer aboard a hydrofoil passing near the City of Poros after the gunmen fled shot film that was screened on Greek TV. The film showed a helicoper hovering over the liner and at least 10 smaller vessels coming to the ship’s aid.
Two weeks ago, the American military attache to Greece, Navy Capt. William E. Nordeen, was assassinated by a booby-trapped car that exploded as he drove past in his bullet-proof car on his way to work. The terrorist organization November 17 claimed responsibility.
Four Palestinian terrorists on Oct. 7, 1985, hijacked the Italian luxury liner Achille Lauro during a Mediterranean cruise. The terrorists killed American passenger Leon Klinghoffer and threw the body and the wheelchair of the 69-year-old invalid overboard.
Italian courts later convicted seven Palestinians of planning or carrying out the attack, including Mohammed Abbas, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Front who was tried in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Abbas was on a plane carrying the four hijackers out of Egypt when U.S. fighter planes forced the Egyptian airliner to land in Sicily, where they were arrested. Italian magistrates said then they didn’t have enough evidence to hold Abbas and let him leave the country Oct. 12.