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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 April 2007, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Cruise ship evacuated off Greece
The Sea Diamond being evacuated
The passengers will be taken to Piraeus, where the ship was heading
An operation to evacuate up to 1,600 people from a stricken cruise ship has been completed off the coast of the Greek island of Santorini.

The Greek-flagged Sea Diamond issued a distress signal after running aground and starting to take on water.

Passengers told the BBC they were taken from the ship on lifeboats. They said the evacuation proceeded calmly.

A flotilla of commercial ships plus six navy helicopters and various navy vessels assisted the rescue.

The ship was about one nautical mile (1.8km) off the coast of the island in the eastern Aegean Sea.

After running aground several hundred metres from shore in Santorini's volcanic lagoon, it was towed off the rocks for the rescue to take place.

map

The weather was good and the sea calm.

The passengers were to be collected from Santorini by a sister ship and taken to Piraeus, where they would have ended the cruise on Saturday anyway.

Many of the 1,200 passengers are from Germany and the United States, and about 20 are believed to be from the UK, said Louis Cruise Lines, the Cypriot firm which runs the ship.

There are also up to 400 crew.

American passenger Cliff Jones said: "We were pulling into the port and I think the ship hit a few rocks.

"The ship tilted so far to the right the first five floors were flooded. We just waited at the top to be rescued," he told the BBC.

THE SEA DIAMOND
The Sea Diamond
Gross tonnage: 22,412
Length: 142.95m
Decks: 10
Cabins: 584
Earlier, Santorini's regional governor, Chrysanthos Roussis, said: "We managed to get the ship away from the rocks and tugged the vessel toward the main harbour. The condition appears to have been stabilised, and the evacuation effort is going well so far."

The ship had been on a short tour of the Greek islands.

Another ship operated by Louis, the Calypso, had to be towed into Southampton on the south coast of England last year after an engine fire sparked a major alert in the English Channel.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Footage of the stricken cruise ship



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