Fears Over Sunken Cruise Ship Near Popular Island

A cruise ship that sank 17 years ago poses a growing threat to Santorini, worsened by disputes between the government and the ship's owners.

Seventeen years have passed since the MS Sea Diamond, owned by Louis Hellenic Cruises, sank off the coast of Santorini, leaving the memory of a devastating accident and an ongoing environmental crisis. The ship sank after running aground on a reef and now lies as a silent but deadly threat in the famous Greek island’s caldera.

The incident led to the tragic loss of two lives and the rescue of 1,195 passengers and also raised concerns about its long-term environmental impact. A significant portion of the over 500 metric tons of diesel and oil originally on board remains within the deteriorating fuel tanks of the sunken abandoned vessel.

Wreckage Loaded With Oils, Lubricants, And Hazardous Materials

MS Sea Diamond, a vessel that sank on April 5, 2007, is still at the bottom of the Santorini caldera, following years of inactivity and infighting between the vessel’s owners, insurance companies, the European Union, and the Greek government. 

The wreckage, to this day loaded with heavy fuel oils, lubricants, and other hazardous materials, poses a significant risk to the marine ecosystem and the health of the island’s inhabitants. The situation has been worsened by visible traces of oil that surface during strong winds, leading to doubts over the current containment measures.

An attempt has been made to contain the ongoing oil release by deploying a floating boom. Nonetheless, this strategy has proven to be ineffective, particularly as the boom’s size has diminished over time.

According to The Greek Reporter, a spokesperson for the initiative supporting the removal of the wreck, Loucas Lignos, said the following: “The shipwreck is located exactly in the caldera of Santorini, around 800m from the port. It is sunk about 100m underwater.”

“It has 300 tonnes of fuel oils and other toxic chemicals, machine oils, in the generators, wires that are filled with copper, PCB and plastic that will slowly be diluted into the water over time. If that happens it will be a huge environmental disaster for the Santorini beaches.”

Location of the MS Sea Diamond
Location of the MS Sea Diamond (Photo Credit: Hohenberg)

The MS Sea Diamond was a cruise ship owned by Louis Hellenic Cruise Lines, which was later renamed Celestyal Cruises. The vessel ran aground and ultimately sank off the coast of Santorini, Greece.

This event led to extensive legal action and environmental concerns. Out of the 1,195 passengers and 391 crew on board, two passengers were reported missing and were later presumed dead.

Despite a 2014 court ruling holding the ship’s owner accountable for the wreck’s removal and associated costs, legal proceedings have seen multiple delays and appeals, leaving the MS Sea Diamond slowly rotting away and becoming ever more dangerous. 

Loucas Lignos: “The shipwreck remains on the seabed and continues to pollute, at a slow but steady rate, it erodes daily and at any time it can cause an incalculable ecological disaster,” 

The issue of financial responsibility for the salvage operation remains a contentious point, with neither the ship’s owner, the insurance company, nor government bodies willing to bear the cost. Even a complaint to the European Union in 2012 did not lead to a resolution.

Sea Diamond Life rafts
Sea Diamond Life rafts (Photo Credit: יוסי הראשון)

Immediately following the sinking, concerns were raised about the environmental impact on the surrounding marine ecosystem. While the incident led to numerous new provisions for maritime safety, environmental protection, and the need for strict adherence to navigational regulations, MS Sea Diamond itself remains an environmental ticking timebomb. 

Read Also: Uncovering the Secrets of the Cruise Ship Graveyard

The local community’s concerns are not unfounded. The MS Sea Diamond‘s location on a steep slope in an area prone to seismic activity poses a significant threat. 

There’s a real danger that the wreck could slide further into the crater, leading to the release of crude oil and other harmful chemicals into the sea. Should this occur, the cost of removing the wreck would skyrocket, not to mention the environmental damage.

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