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Coast Guard Investigates Sunken Ship

December 19, 2000

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) _ A debris field of floating deck chairs and battered life boats marked the site Monday where a cruise ship sank in turbulent seas.

No lives were lost, but what went wrong as the 610-foot SeaBreeze sailed from Boston to Charleston, S.C., still wasn’t clear.

The ship’s captain had radioed a distress call Sunday saying he was down to one engine and taking on water. Winds were gusting to 60 mph at the time and the Atlantic waves were hitting 30 feet.

Coast Guard helicopters reached the Panamanian-flagged ship about 200 miles from shore and quickly plucked off the 34 crew members. The SeaBreeze, which had no other passengers because of a recent ownership change, disappeared shortly after the final crewman was rescued.

A Coast Guard plane circled the site Monday and confirmed the ship was gone.

``They did find a debris field indicating the cruise ship did sink,″ said Petty Officer Allison von Hagn at the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area Command in Portsmouth.

She said the Coast Guard was told the ship’s engine room had flooded. A spokesman for the ship’s owner, Cruise Ventures III, said Monday he didn’t know why the ship went down.

``There may have been a problem with the boiler,″ said Coast Guard spokesman Brendan McPherson. ``Then, somehow, something broke free and the ship started flooding internally.″

Since the ship was in international waters, it is Panama’s responsibility to investigate, and the Coast Guard was waiting for the officials to arrive before interviewing the ship’s crew, von Hagn said Monday.

A review of recent U.S. and Canadian inspection records showed no serious problems.

The SeaBreeze was last boarded by Canadian authorities Oct. 25. Twenty requirements regarding housekeeping issues were noted, but none that might prevent the ship from sailing, von Hagn said. The U.S. Coast Guard last boarded the vessel on Aug. 18 in Boston and found no safety deficiencies.

When the Coast Guard helicopters arrived, the SeaBreeze crew members ``were panicked and they wanted to get off that ship,″ said Petty Officer Darren Reeves, a rescue swimmer who was lowered from a helicopter to the ship’s deck.

``I had to use some crowd control. I had to grab a couple of them and point them in the right direction,″ Reeves said in an interview on ABC’s ``Good Morning America.″

Some of the crew members were treated for mild hypothermia. One man with possible heart problems was taken to a hospital.

Cruise Ventures III is a subsidiary of DLJ Capital Funding in New York, said Peter Craddick, a Cruise Ventures III spokesman in New York.

The ship had been owned by Florida-based Premier Cruises Ltd. until September, when investment firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette seized four ships with a court order, Craddick said.

The SeaBreeze was put into port in Halifax, Nova Scotia, until the legal title became clear, Craddick said. He said it left Halifax, stopped in Boston for refueling, and was headed to Charleston, S.C., where the owners were to decide whether to sell it, when the ship went down.


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