Coast Guard Rescues Crew of Sinking Ship

The Coast Guard rescued 34 crewmembers of a cruise ship as it sank about 200 miles off the coast of Virginia Sunday afternoon.

The Sea Breeze I lost an engine as its engine room flooded in 25-foot seas and 20-knot winds — conditions that made the rescue difficult and, at times, harrowing.

“The waves were actually coming up high enough. It was actually splashing water up onto the helicopter at times,” said Coast Guard Lt. Craig Neubecker. “Every time a large wave would hit the ship, the ship would roll more to the right. We actually thought it was going to sink every time it took one of those rolls, so it was really unnerving for us.”

The ship sank almost immediately after the last of the 34 crew was pulled aboard a rescue helicopter.

Repair Voyage

The Coast Guard sent two helicopters to the scene after the distress call came from the 600-foot-long Panamanian-flagged passenger vessel in at about 11:30 a.m. It had been on its way from Halifax to Charleston for repairs, and there were only crew aboard, according to U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Silvia Olvera.

The Sea Breeze I, which is owned by International Shipping Partners of Miami, was about 200 miles east of Cape Charles, Va.

In addition to the two helicopters, the Coast Guard dispatched two C-130 Hercules aircraft for the rescue effort.

There was no immediate word on the sinking from the ship’s owner and no immediate information on the exact cause.

The survivors were brought to Oceana Naval Air Base in Norfolk around 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

ABCNEWS affiliate WVEC in Norfolk, Virginia, and Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.