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Appeals court clears five of wrongdoing in Sea Diamond sinking

Appeals court clears five of wrongdoing in Sea Diamond sinking
Five people found guilty last year for their part in the sinking of the cruise ship Sea Diamond off Santorini in April 2007, which caused the deaths of two passengers, were cleared on appeal July 4, but the convictions of three others were not overturned.

The Piraeus appeals court ruled the captain of the Louis Hellenic Cruise Lines vessel, which ran aground near the island’s Athinios port, the first mate and the head of operations ashore were all guilty of negligence.

Capt. Yiannis Marinos, 38 at the time, was handed a five-year jail sentence, which he can buy out for €5 a day, some €9,125 ($12,400) in total.

At the initial trial he had received a sentence of 12 years and two months.

The head of operations was given a three-year term suspended for three years, and the first mate a 26-month suspended sentence.

However, five others, including two representatives of the cruise company, were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Seven years on from the accident, Sea Diamond’s hull has not been raised.

Some 1,500 people were on board the 22,412gt, 1986-built vessel when it hit the reef. All but two were rescued, with Frenchman Jean-Christophe Allain, 45, and his daughter, Maud, 16, never accounted for.

Louis Hellenic has argued the official nautical chart of the Hellenic Hydrographic Office contained incorrect information, causing Sea Diamond to hit an underwater reef and subsequently sink.

A First Instance Court of Piraeus ruled on February 4 that the ship be salvaged and a fine of €14m be paid to the Greek government and the municipality of Santorini.

In February, the ship's owning and managing company voiced respect for the decision but vowed to appeal. A statement said the ‘final decision will be made by the Piraeus Appeals Court.’

In April 2013, the municipality of Santorini called for Sea Diamond's removal and demanded compensation for moral damage due to degradation of the marine environment. Also in April, the Greek state filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for moral damage for the same reason, as well as for moral damage caused by the owners blaming the Hellenic Hydrographic Office for the accident.

The court's decision comes despite the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Ltd. having said in a report any attempt to salvage the ship would be difficult and risky.

The Greek Centre for Marine Research stated in its last report the effects on the marine environment are negligible and measurements taken give low readings and are similar to those detected in the open seas.

Greece's Shipping and Aegean Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis had stated the wreck is at a depth that does not harm the environment and the surroundings, while there is constant monitoring for pollution issues and already a huge amount has been paid for cleaning the area.

However, environmental organisations say there is serious environmental risk from erosion of the shipwreck and have sought the salvage of the ship, which lies off one of Greece's most popular tourist islands.