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Greek Cruise Liner Erupts in Flames Off Africa

Dec. 22, 1963 - Packed with British Christmas vacationers, the Greek cruise liner Lakonia erupted in flames in the Atlantic off northwest Africa, forcing its 1,022 passengers and crew to abandon ship early today. About four hours later, the Argentine ship Alta and the British tanker Montcalm, vanguard of a major rescue operation, pulled the first survivors from the Lakonia’s lifeboats. There was no report of casualties. The British Admiralty said ships on the scene reported a series of explosions in the 20,238-ton Lakonia’s hull and that some persons still appeared to be aboard the liner. The BBC reported at 7 a.m. (2 a.m. EST) that the Montcalm and the Alta had taken aboard at least 170 survivors. The first hint of trouble came at 11:30 p.m. yesterday in a terse radio message from the Lakonia reporting a fire on board. The ship did not ask for assistance. Half an hour later, her wireless operator reported: “We are leaving the ship. Please immediately give us assistance. Please help us.” At 2:22 a.m. came the final message: “SOS from Lakonia, last time. I cannot stay any more in the wireless station. We are leaving the ship. Please immediate assistance. Please help.” Lakonia left Southampton on December 19 for an 11-day Christmas cruise of the Canary Islands. Her first scheduled stop was to be the island of Madeira. She carried 646 passengers and 376 crew. The captain of Lakonia is 53-year-old Mathios Zarbis.


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