Faulty chart blamed for Sea Diamond sinking

AN INVESTIGATION into the causes of the Sea Diamond casualty off the Aegean island of Santorini in April last year appears to have cleared the Louis Group, which owned and operated the ship, and the vessel’s master.

The report into the accident, obtained exclusively by Lloyd’s List, has been unanimously signed by three court-appointed experts — naval architect Achilleas Kakarantzas and master mariners Christos Meligonis and Evangelos Tsochalis.

They appear to concur largely with recent declarations by Louis, blaming inaccurate official charts of the waters around the popular tourist island.

Bearing out a recent admission by the Greek state hydrographic service, the report said that the court surveyors measured a distance of 130.5 m between the shore and the point where the vessel touched bottom, whereas the main chart in circulation showed shallows extending only 57 m from the shore.

The report concluded that on its approach to Fira, the port of Santorini, the Sea Diamond drifted towards the shore as a result of prevailing winds and possible currents and hit shallows that were not marked on Chart 423/8.

No other act or omissions were identified as causing the cruise liner to touch bottom.

According to the court surveyors, the faulty chart played a key role “provided that the master has consulted the said chart shortly before the incident”.

The report noted that any other approach to the berth, from different directions and other types of craft, would not be affected by the unmarked shallows, explaining why the discrepancy has not previously been detected in a bay where there are several thousand moves annually.

Other findings by the investigation, which had access to the transcript of the ship’s black box, de-coded in the US, included finding that the vessel was seaworthy and in class, with no evidence of condition problems or poor maintenance.

The response to the emergency was also found in general to have been appropriate.

According to the surveyors, once the vessel hit the reef, sinking was unavoidable.

The gash sustained by the hull ranged across at least four consecutive watertight compartments, and almost certainly flooded a fifth, the report stated.

The surveyors found that the master had failed to keep all watertight doors shut during the voyage, but the doors were closed about three minutes after impact and this did not affect the fate of the vessel.

Louis and the crew will claim vindication after the report’s publication, but the company was not willing to comment today.

“We cannot discuss this yet as the matter is still before the court,” an executive said.

A regional Greek court was awaiting the experts’ report before making a decision on whether to prosecute the company, members of the crew, or other parties.

Louis has said it has already spent €12m ($16.7m) in relation to the accident, in which two French passengers were reported missing.

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