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Greek ferry described as 'a grime bucket'

The Greek ferry which sank with the loss of at least 59 lives has been described as a "grime bucket" that "would not be allowed to operate anywhere near a British or a Baltic port."

The guidebook Greek Island Hopping has issued scathing descriptions of the Express Samina in its current issue.

The book says: "Now reaching the 35-year Greek ferry age limit and due for replacement, this dreadful boat is arguably the worst Greek ferry afloat.

"A large grime bucket with a reputation for running late for most of the time she has shuddered along. She is definitely a boat to be avoided."

European Parliamentarian Alekos Alavanos said: "The Express Semena was operating illegally and was not up to par with strict European regulations on passenger ferry safety."

The allegations come hard on the heels of a complaints this week by the ferry's senior mechanic that the Semena "was mechanically flawed."

Adding to the malaise, survivors accused the shipping company of carrying ill-maintained security apparatus.

"The life rafts were in shambles and the crane couldn't move to get them out into the sea," said Panayiotis Spanos who plunged into cold waters with his mother to avoid floundering with the vessel.

Under EU regulations, vessels over 27 years of life are barred from circulation. The Express Semena was running its 34th year.

Greek ferry operator Minoan Flying Dolphins said on Wednesday the Express Samina, which sank after hitting a rocky islet off Paros, was found seaworthy following a merchant marine inspection last week.

The operator, a subsidiary of Minoan Lines, said the inspection had been prompted by a complaint that followed a recent seamen's strike.

"The Merchant Marine Ministry ... conducted extraordinary and detailed inspections on the specific vessel on Friday, September 22, finding it seaworthy and allowing it to sail for its regular route without any remarks," Minoan Flying Dolphins said in a statement.

Greek Justice Minister Michalis Stathopoulos told parliament earlier he had ordered a criminal investigation into the sinking.

Minoan also pledged to find out why the tragedy occurred. "The company declares that it ... will make available all its services to shed light on the reasons for the tragic accident," it said.

The vessel was one of the oldest ferries in the Greek domestic fleet. Built in 1966, she was originally the French SNCM ferry Corse.

She has operated in Greece since the mid 1980s. Until early this year she sailed as the Golden Verginea. Sold to Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Ferries $ 2,250,000 she was renamed Express Samina and her passenger facilities were refurbished.

Greek Island Hopping has been warning readers against using this very old ferry for a number of years.

On its website on Wednesday, it said: "Given the age of this ferry, this was an accident waiting to happen.

"If there has been a high loss of life, then the age of the Express Samina and the questionable standard of her facilities might well have played a part. "Her 1960's design -- with the comparative lack of exit facilities -- would make it very difficult to escape from inside the vessel in a rapid sinking.

"The only exits for deck-class passengers are at the stern (other doors are usually kept locked on vessels of this age to prevent deck-class passengers invading higher ticket price areas)."

The guidebook also slammed ferry safety procedures in Greece. It added: "Greece has consistently refused to sign up to the SOLAS ferry safety requirements that have come into force following the Herald of Free Enterprise and Estonia disasters.

"Many of the boats operating in Greece are old North European ferries that were sold on because the cost of bringing them up to these standards would have been too high.

"A boat like the Express Samina would not be allowed to operate anywhere near a British or Baltic port."

Greek Island Hopping - Online
The Port of Piraeus

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