A Greek cruise ship with more than 600 people aboard sank in a harbor off Athens Friday after it was rammed by an Italian freighter, killing at least two people, injuring 72 others and leaving 14 missing, officials said.
Witnesses reported seeing passengers jumping off the cruise ship Jupiter as water rushed into the vessel, and officials said five children and nine adults were missing as rescue operations continued late into the night under the illumination of flares.Police arrested the captain of the Italian freighter Adige, identified as Flavio Caminale, following the collision, which occured in daylight and in good weather.
"Two sailors were killed and 14 people are missing," an official of the Merchant Marine Ministry said. State-owned Athens television said about 72 people were injured.
There was no immediate official word on the extent of their injuries but reporters visiting hospitals where they were taken reported some suffered from shock and broken bones.
The semi-official Athens News Agency said the two dead were boiler mechanics.
The Jupiter was carrying more than 400 British schoolchildren among its passengers at the time of the accident, the British Embassy in Athens said.
The cruise ship was rammed by the freighter at about 6:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. EDT) as the passenger vessel was leaving the Athens port of Piraeus en route to the Aegean island of Rhodes and ports in the Middle East, an Athens TV station and witnesses reported.
The Jupiter, taking on water through a gash in its hull, sank less than two hours later. Piraeus is about 10 miles south of Athens.
Rescuers took the injured to two hospitals in Piraeus and placed the remaining passengers aboard another cruise ship, the Pegassos, owned by the same company as the Jupiter, officials said.
One officer of the Jupiter said water began rushing into the vessel because the Italian freighter made the error of pulling back immediatly after the collision, opening up a hole in the side of the cruise ship.
He said the captain had no time to lower lifeboats, and passengers were forced to jump into the sea to escape as the ship listed heavily and began to sink.
Harbor sources said air force planes dropped flares over the scene of the accident to help several tug boats and other vessels that rushed to the aid of passengers in the water, the children ranged in age from 12 to 18.
The Jupiter's passengers were having dinner when the collision occurred. Harbor officials said the cruise ship carried more than 600 people, including a crew of 110. But shipping insurer Lloyds of London said the vessel carried 750 passengers.
The British Embassy said the passengers included 420 British school children. They ranged in age from 12 to 18.
Karen Johnson from Britain's Chase Cross School said later: "We were sitting in the dining room, and all of a sudden we heard this smash and everybody jolted forward."
Johnson, who was not injured, said the collision opened a 10-foot hole in the Jupiter's side.
"Everybody was helping each other ... Half of them jumped into the sea. There were boats reaching us. It was frightening."
Christina Horton, a teacher at Brownhill Secondary Modern School, said, "I never imagined a ship could sink so fast . . . the kids were jumping into the sea, but small boats came to the rescue quickly."
A reporter who visited the Janion and Nikea hospitals in Piraeu said the children were in a state of shock. "One had a broken arm, another had a broken leg. Several were bruised," he said.