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Cruise ship captain blames currents for sinking

Story Highlights

• Captain of cruise ship blames currents off Greek island for sinking
• Captain and five officers of sunken Greek cruise ship charged with negligence
• Nearly 1,600 evacuated when ship sinks off Aegean island
• Two French passengers still not been accounted for
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ATHENS, Greece -- The captain of the Sea Diamond cruise ship blamed currents for last week's sinking off a Greek island, state-run television reported Sunday.

Two French tourists have been missing since Thursday when the Greek-flagged ship struck rocks and eventually sank off the island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea.

All the other people on board -- 1,154 passengers and 391 crew, according to operator Louis Cruise Lines -- were rescued.

The ship's Greek captain and five other senior crew members have been charged with negligence and violating international maritime rules. An official in the prosecutor's office told CNN charges against the captain and crew could be upgraded if the two French tourists are declared dead. (Watch as ship sinks off Greek island Video)

State-run NET television quoted from what it said were excerpts of the captain's deposition to a public prosecutor on the island of Naxos, blaming currents off the volcanic island for the accident.

"I felt the ship, which had been on a normal course, slip to the right because of sea currents," NET quoted him as saying, according to The Associated Press. "I gave the order for a full turn left. But there was not enough time for the ship to respond."

The prosecution official told CNN the captain admitted in an interview that he tried to free the ship from the reef before evacuating the passengers as required by international rules.

The ship's hull was ripped open by the effort to move off the rocks, causing it to sink in Santorini's volcanic lagoon 18 hours later. (Watch the cruise ship's last moments Video)

Although there were no injuries and the three-hour evacuation process went smoothly, the French pair -- Jean-Christophe Allain, 45, and his 16-year-old daughter, Maud -- were reported missing late Thursday by a family member also on the ill-fated cruise.

Divers are continuing to search for the two missing passengers who disappeared after their cabin flooded with water when the ship struck rocks.

The investigating prosecutor, who presided over a marathon session of interviews, has charged the captain and five crew members with three counts of negligence, according to the prosecution official on the island of Naxos.

All six officers were freed without having to post a bond, the official said. If convicted, the officers face a maximum five-year sentence.

The incident marred the start of Greece's tourist season and cast a pal over heightened demand -- mainly by US nationals -- for Greek cruises this year. Many of the passengers were also from Germany, Spain and the UK.

"We were on the deck watching the ship steer into the harbor, when we heard a loud bump," an unidentified American passenger told Greek national television.

"Then, the water in the pool started to spill out like a tidal wave. And then, the ship started tilting to the right."

The Sea Diamond, which is owned by Cyprus-based Louis Cruise Lines, had set sail from the port of Pireaus last Monday, taking its passengers on a week-long island-hopping cruise in the Aegean Sea.

The Sea Diamond struck rocks in the sea-filled crater formed by a volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago. Tourists gathered on clifftop towns and villages to watch the rescue.

"We realized there was a serious problem. ... We exited our cabin and it was tough to be able to walk out of the ship. A lot of people were very emotional over it, upset, very frightened," Stephen Johnson, a Canadian passenger, told The Associated Press.

Louis Cruise Lines insisted the 143-meter (469-foot) Sea Diamond, which was built in 1986 and refurbished in 1999, had been well maintained.

"The vessel maintained the highest level of safety standards and was equipped with the latest navigation systems," spokesman Giorgos Stathopoulos told AP.

An Australian passenger, Katie Sumner, said the early stages of the rescue were chaotic.

"We heard a big shudder and then the whole boat started to tilt," Sumner said.

"All of our glasses were sliding everywhere and our warning that the ship was sinking was some of the staff running down the corridor screaming out 'life jackets' and banging on doors, so we got no time to, sort of, get ready or anything, we just left as we were."

Journalist Anthee Carassava contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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