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Twenty-five dead, at least 60 missing after Greek ferry sinks

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From staff and wire reports

ATHENS, Greece -- Twenty-five people died and more than 60 went missing after a Greek ferry with 511 aboard ran aground and sank off the Aegean island of Paros late on Tuesday.

The merchant marine ministry said more than 350 people were quickly rescued and taken to ashore by coast guard, trawlers, pleasure craft and fishing boats after the Express Samina ferry foundered in strong winds.

A total of 357 people from the Express Samina were taken to local hospitals on Paros, while others were put up in hotels. Many of the less seriously injured were being treated for cuts, bruises and hypothermia.

"The vessel ran aground at about 10:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) about two miles from Paros. There were 447 passengers and 64 crew on board," a merchant marine ministry official told Reuters.

Swift response

"Coast guard vessels, tugs and fishing boats rushed to the scene to evacuate the ship. The rescue operation is still under way," the official said.

A C-130 plane, helicopters and 40 ships were participating in the rescue operation, including the British Royal Navy's HMS Liverpool, which was in the region at the time.

Hundreds of local people in pleasure craft and fishing boats joined the rescue effort as many potential survivors were thought to have swum to nearby islets, while others were believed to still be in the sea.

Doctors from all neighboring islands were called to Paros and a special medical team was being flown in from Athens.

Sea conditions were moderate, although strengthening winds, of up to eight on the Beaufort scale, were hampering rescue efforts.

Local media said the ferry suffered a power blackout after running aground and many panic-stricken passengers had jumped into the sea as the ship listed shortly afterwards.

The Express Samina foundered off a small islet, known as Portes, near Paros. Helicopters and a C-130 plane on scene dropped flares to illuminate the rescue area. Tugs also joined the rescue operation, the merchant marine ministry said.

Terror aboard stricken ferry

One survivor told Greek television of his ordeal after being rescued.

"The ship hit rocks shortly after 10 p.m. We were watching television at the time in one of the lounges. I'm a seaman and we went to the aft. The vessel started listing and there was panic," said Andreas Spanos, a passenger on the Express Samina.

"Lots of people jumped into the sea. I jumped into the sea. I knew the vessel was going to sink once it started listing. There were still lots of people on the ship. It wasn't wavy, but the sea was cold. I could hear people screaming in the distance," Spanos said.

"A fishing boat picked me up and brought me to shore on Paros, but there were old ladies and young children on board. I don't know what happened to these people."

Rescue efforts continued into the early hours. Stunned survivors, including foreign holidaymakers, were brought to shore by hundreds of locals in a spontaneous rescue flotilla of pleasure craft and fishing boats.

Other nearby vessels, including ferries, were alerted and went to the scene to help out.

"My wife is a nurse and is currently helping the survivors in the local hospital on Paros. I've seen lots of shocked survivors, wearing life jackets. Most are soaking wet and many appear to be suffering from hypothermia," an eyewitness said.

The Express Samina had sailed from the port of Piraeus, west of Athens, at about 1400 GMT and was approaching the main port of Paros when it foundered. It was later due to have sailed to the islands of Naxos, Samos, Ikaria, Patmos and Lipsi.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
Paros Island: The Online Community
Paros-Online.com - The Paros-Greece Online Guide
British Royal Navy
HMS Liverpool - The Royal Navy Ships of Victor Johns


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