On a visit to Santorini island, off which the vessel sank in deep water last April. Panos Kammenos, the deputy minister of merchant marine, the Aegean and island policy, warned that company executives could face arrest and the owner’s assets could be frozen if the wreck is not raised.
A spokesman for Louis Hellenic Cruises, the operating company, yesterday dismissed the remarks as “fireworks”.
Speaking from Cyprus, the base of the wider Louis cruise, hotels and tourism group, Michael Maratheftis said: “There is a distinction between the executive and the judiciary and it is not up to the ministry to order such things.”
Louis’ position, confirmed in a written statement, is that it has already exceeded the legal maximum liability of €4.3m ($6.2m) it may have faced if it caused the pollution.
“We have exceeded €10m [in anti-pollution costs], willingly and even though neither we nor the vessel’s captain are at fault,” Mr Maratheftis said.
“We did that because for decades we have had a close relationship with Santorini and we bring thousands of passengers to the island every week.”
Louis also claimed that the island’s authorities have acknowledged in writing that, after several months of cleaning up fuels leaked from the wreck, “the coasts were delivered back cleaner than ever”.
The company criticised the ministry for failing to respond to its repeated requests for a meeting to “exchange views” on tackling any outstanding issues stemming from the accident, which required the evacuation of about 1,500 passengers and crew.
Two French passengers were never accounted for and are presumed to have died in the incident.
Last year, Louis engaged the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research to map the area where the cruiseship fatefully scraped its flank on the volcanic rock of Santorini, resulting in a study that found the waters were incorrectly charted.
Experts engaged by the owner have also concluded that any attempt to remove the wreck might increase the environmental threat, while pumping out the oil is not technically feasible.
Despite the war of proclamations between officials and the cruise line,the ministry appeared to be backingMr Kammenos’ line this week, with a statement that “every legal measure” would be taken to bring up the fuel and the sunken ship.