Vessel 'was condemned as unsafe by engineer'

The Crew
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The Independent Online

Seamen from the Express Samina defended their conduct yesterday, rejecting survivors' allegations that they offered them little or no help when the disaster unfolded.

Seamen from the Express Samina defended their conduct yesterday, rejecting survivors' allegations that they offered them little or no help when the disaster unfolded.

"We were handing life jackets to people until the last minute," one seaman told Greek television. "Some of us died as well."

At least three seamen have been identified among the dead. Witnesses said some crew members were watching football on television when the ship hit the islet.

Some survivors said there was no announcement to abandon ship or to give them direction, forcing them to look for life jackets themselves or jump into dark choppy waters without them.

A seamen's union claimed yesterday that the first engineer of the Express Samina was sacked as a "whistle-blower" last week for complaining about safety on board the vessel, his union claimed yesterday.

Anastasios Sorokas, a veteran seaman, was said to have been dismissed because of reports he made to the Greek Merchant Marine Ministry about alleged failures to test emergency equipment and the ship's watertight doors. According to the Pan-Hellenic Union of Marine Engineers, he was escorted from the ferry on the same day he made his report to ministry representatives in the Express Samina's home port of Piraeus, Athens.

In a letter to his employer, Minoan Flying Dolphins, copied to the harbourmaster's office last Thursday, Mr Sorokas, 57, wrote: "I believe it is extremely dangerous to continue to work or travel on this vessel." He was asking to be released from his contract with the company after only 40 days on board. Minoan Flying Dolphins disputed his version of events yesterday, claiming he had complained only after being sacked for failing to return to his post after a strike. However, Charalampos Chaltsotakis, the union's general secretary, said Mr Sorokas had been prevented from entering the ship's engine room last Thursdaybecause of the complaints he had made.

"You could say he wasn't at his post but that was because he was denied entry," Mr Chaltsotakis said. "But he was on board the ship. He was dismissed for ringing alarm bells over the state of this vessel."

In his letter, a copy of which has been seen by The Independent, Mr Sorokas - who has worked at sea all his life - asked for urgent checks on equipment, claimed the crew were treated like "servants" and said the Express Samina was leaking so much oil it was a source of pollution. He said the vessel kept afloat only because the engineers were constantly "patching" it up. "It is very dangerous for the passengers," he wrote.

In a follow-up letter, sent to the Merchant Marine Ministry and his union the day after the disaster, Mr Sorokas went into more detail, claiming emergency generators and the remote operation of watertight doors had not been tested the entire time he was on board. According to the union, they should be tested weekly.

Mr Sorokas also pointed to alleged failings in the main engine mechanism and to a leak in a fore section of the hull, which should be free of water to act as an impact barrier in the event of an accident.

Minoan Flying Dolphins pointed to the fact that two inspections were made after Mr Sorokas's complaints - including one on the day of the accident - and she had been given a clean bill of health. A ministry spokesman said the inspections were "thorough".