Passengers from stranded Mona Lisa cruise ship start to head home

More than 650 passengers, mostly elderly Germans, who were evacuated from a cruise ship stranded off Latvia were beginning to head home, LNT TV reported Tuesday.

At least 300 passengers boarded a charter flight Tuesday morning back to Germany from the Riga airport after spending a night at hotels in the Latvian capital. Another charter flight was scheduled in the afternoon, reported dpa according the TV channel.

The passengers were evacuated Monday from the Mona Lisa cruise ship, which ran aground Sunday in the Irbe strait between Latvia and the Estonian island of Saaremaa, 17 kilometres from shore.

The efforts to return the 201-metre cruise ship to deep waters were continuing.

A rescue team arrived at the request of Germany's Lord Nelson Seereisen shipping company, which chartered the 42-year-old ship, Coast Guard Service spokeswoman Liene Ulbina told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The authorities also evacuated to shore 11 crew members who are to remain in the western Latvian town of Ventspils, 37 kilometres from the Mona Lisa.

Another 332 crew members remained on the ship along with experts from the Latvian Navy, Coast Guard Service and Maritime Administration.

The cause of the accident remained under investigation.

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