The coastguard said two ships, a C130 transport plane and numerous fishing boats had assisted the evacuation, while four coastguard vessels and a helicopter were standing by.

The rescued passengers were taken to Poros, they included 103 people from Japan, 58 Americans and 56 from Russia along with a number of other nationalities.  

"Nobody knew what was going on."

Phedra Ballard, 'Georgis' passenger
On Poros, medical crews were on standby as passengers came ashore, many wearing bright orange lifejackets and wrapped in foil blankets.

"Nobody suffered a scratch and everything went very well. There was no panic and nobody was hurt," Dimitris Stratigos, the mayor of Poros, said.

"We were lucky, thank God," he added.

The vessel is one of several that runs popular day trips between Piraeus, near Athens, and the nearby islands of Poros, Hydra and Aegina.

Calm evacuation

"We're glad to be on solid ground," said Phedra Ballard, a tourist from New Jersey, US.

She said that when the ship struck the reef "nobody knew what was going on".

"There were tables and chairs falling over, people started falling; we got a little scared but then people pulled on their life-jackets. It was like they had done it before," she said.

Another American passenger, Mark Skione from Minneapolis said the ship went "from full cruising speed to a dead stop".

He said the rescue operation took arouns three hours: "It was not very well organised, there was no information, no announcement".

Apostolos Traikambis, one of the boatmen who helped in the rescue said many local boatowners went to help.

He said the evacuation itself was calm: "The crew on the boat were great, they kept the morale of the passengers high."

The ship, operated by the Hydraiki Naval company, was running day-long cruises in the area; no-one from the company has made any immediate comment.

Last April, the 'Sea Diamond' sank in the port of Santorini after running aground [AP] 
Weather conditions were apparently good and the coastguard said it was not yet known why it had run aground.

Deputy Merchant Marine minister Panos Kammenos told reporters that the accident was under investigation, and moved to allay fears about the safety of their ships. 

Last April, the cruise ship 'Sea Diamond' sank in the port of the Cycladic island of Santorini after running aground.

More than 1,500 passengers and crew were rescued, but a French tourist and his daughter are officially missing and feared drowned.

Safety highlighted

"Greece is a safe destination and Greek ships operate according to international law," said Kammenos as he waited for the evacuated passengers arrive at Piraeus harbour, near Athens.

"We are a naval country with hundreds of islands, and hundreds of ships travelling on a 24-hour basis. Such incidents prove we are in a position to handle such events," he said.

The ministry said the Giorgis was taking on large amounts of water, but that it was not in immediate danger of sinking.

Mayor Stratigos said divers were checking how badly the ship had been damaged, while it was still on the reef, and said that there had been no pollution due to leakage of fuel.

He said the rescuers were helped by good weather and the fact that the incident happened during daylight hours.