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Cruise ship sinks day after crew rescued

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An abandoned cruise ship sank following engine failure in rough seas about 200 miles east of Cape Charles, Virginia on Monday.

Rescuers in helicopters plucked 34 crew members from the Seabreeze I on Sunday after the captain radioed a distress call, reporting that the ship was operating with one engine and was taking on water.

There were no passengers on board the 600-foot vessel when it ran into trouble about 200 miles east of Cape Charles, Virginia.

'Chaotic' rescues at sea

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Watch the rescue and hear from the Coast Guard and the ship's captain. Reported by correspondent Rona Williams

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One of the chopper pilots talks with CNN about the rescue

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The Coast Guard said two HH-60 helicopters and two C-130 Hercules aircraft participated in the rescues, carried out in high winds and 25-foot seas.

Lt. Craig Neubecker, who piloted one of the helicopters, described the rough weather emergency mission as "chaotic," but ultimately successful. "We lowered our rescue swimmer down first. He gained control of the situation on the deck and we were able to successfully hoist 26 (crew members) into our helicopter and eight into the other helicopter."

Neubecker told CNN the original plan was to divide the rescue so that each of the two choppers picked up an equal number of crew members -- 17 -- but on his helicopter "we didn't know how many we had. We just kept loading the aircraft until it was full."

Normally, the HH-60 holds eight people, he said.

The crew members were taken to Oceana Naval Air Base in Virginia, where they were treated for mild hypothermia, the Coast Guard said. It said one crew member was taken to a hospital in Virginia Beach for an unknown cardiac condition.

"They are happy to be alive," said a Coast Guard spokesman.

The Seabreeze I, which can carry 1,000 passengers and a crew of 460, was formerly owned by the now bankrupt Premier Cruise Lines. Peter Criddick, a spokesman for the new owner, a company called Sea Ventures III, said the ship was en route from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Charleston, South Carolina.

"Since we had just purchased the liner, it wasn't on any regular service yet," he told CNN.

CNN Producer Michael McManus contributed to this report.



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