Passenger Yachts: Peril at Sea

This has not been a particularly good year for Greek passenger shipping, as witnessed by the sinking of the Greek Ferry Express Samina in which 79 souls perished. And while many would dismiss this tragic incident as an accident involving an old and broken down Greek ferry, very few people would have expected a sailing yacht carrying mostly American passengers to mysteriously founder in the middle of the night a few days later.

On Oct. 1, Zeus III, operated by the highly respected Zeus Tours of New York, was carrying 38 passengers when it sank, without warning, shortly after midnight on October 1st.

According to the BBC, what started out as an idyllic, sun-filled holiday sailing around the Greek Isles ended in a terror-filled evacuation in the middle of the night as passengers jumped into the sea after the vessel struck a charted rock, 1.5 miles off the island of Naxos. An eerie scene of terror and desperation played out as flares fired from a military helicopter lit up the sky while coast guard and fishing vessels, helped by divers, plucked the victims of the sinking yacht from the sea. Passengers were forced to hastily and haphazardly abandon ship as much of the life saving apparatus was inoperable and the crew was not properly trained.

Greek officials were not immediately able to determine the cause of the accident which took place in good weather with calm seas. These two incidents should indeed raise awareness over the safety of passengers and the proper training and certification of crew members manning all vessels.

Zeus is a well known and established operator in the Greek Isles, and their yachts are used by many major tour companies such as GoGo Tours and Central Holidays amongst others. As safety at sea should always be a major concern, this should raise a flag to the travel industry and consumers alike. Don't be afraid to ask your travel agent to obtain and verify safety information when booking a cruise or cruise-tour package. Find out if the vessel meets the latest international safety regulations. For yachts in particular, inquire as to what training and certifications the vessels and its crew have obtained. Also find out when the vessel was last inspected by international authorities or the Coast Guard and whether or not it satisfactorily passed the inspection.

Much of this information may not be readily at hand, but it is worth the effort to obtain it. Many cruise ship and charter yachts that do not regularly sail in U.S. or North American waters are not held to the same stringent standards imposed by the United States Coast Guard, or any of the many other recognized international classification societies such as Lloyds of London, Det Norske Veritas or RINA.

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