- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000

PAROS, Greece Greek authorities yesterday arrested the captain and four crew members of a ferry that struck a rocky outcrop marked by a light beacon that could be seen for seven miles. At least 62 persons were killed.
Some survivors said crew members were watching a soccer match on television Tuesday night when the ship, holding more than 500 people, went aground in a gale in the Aegean Sea just two miles from shore.
"I joked with my husband, 'Who's driving the ship?' " said Christa Liczbinski, a pregnant, 37-year-old from Seeheim, Germany, who was traveling with her husband a Lufthansa pilot and their 4-year-old son.
Greece's lead prosecutor, Panagiotis Dimopoulos, said he would seek indictments for the crew on murder charges.
"It is inexplicable how the ship collided with a well-known rock that carries a light visible from a distance of seven miles," said coast guard chief Andreas Sirigos. "You have to be blind not to see it."
Survivors described a scene of panic and chaos as passengers tried to slip off the sinking ship into the swelling seas, and authorities said the death toll could rise because eight to 24 people were unaccounted for. Navy divers prepared to search the vessel, which sank within 45 minutes of the crash.
The 34-year-old Express Samina was on its daily meandering route through the Aegean with an assortment of passengers foreign tourists heading for sun-soaked holiday isles, residents heading home, army conscripts returning to military bases from leaves.
It was not clear how many people were aboard, and how many of them were foreigners. At least 472 persons were rescued, including two Americans, authorities said.
There were reportedly also passengers from Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and South Africa.
It was unknown if any Americans died. Among the first 20 dead to be identified was Eli Hestnes Juul, a 51-year-old Norwegian woman. The rest were Greek.
Many of the dead were young children, who were not required to be counted on the passenger list. A port official suffered a heart attack and died after learning of the sinking, the coast guard said.
The ship left Athens' port of Piraeus at 5 p.m. Tuesday and headed for Paros, the first of six stops that would eventually bring it to the tiny Lipsis Islands near the Turkish coast.
About 10 p.m., the 345-foot, 4,407-ton ferry rammed into the Portes islet, a large rocky outcrop two miles from shore that is marked on maritime charts and has a navigation light, Mr. Sirigos said.
Christine Shannon, 30, an artist and teacher from Seattle, said she was on the main deck at the time of the crash.
"I saw it hit," Miss Shannon said. "It was well above the top deck… . It was like the movie 'Titanic.' "
A small flotilla of fishing boats rushed to the scene, followed by dozens of other vessels and British navy helicopters. They rescued dozens of people, but gale-force winds hampered their efforts.
Among those saved by the British helicopters were at least 12 persons, including two Britons, who had been clinging to rocks. They were taken to the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, suffering from cold, shock and minor cuts and bruises.
Even while the rescue operation was under way, authorities began investigating the role of the crew in the crash. Results of a preliminary investigation indicated the captain, Vassilis Yannakis, was not on his bridge.
It was Greece's worst ferry accident in 35 years. In 1965, 217 persons died in the sinking of the passenger ship Iraklion.

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