The confirmed death toll from the capsizing of Carnival Corp.’s Costa Concordia off Italy’s Tuscan coast rose to five today as rescuers continued to search for 15 people still missing. Three people were found alive in the capsized cruise liner.
The ship’s captain has been arrested and accused of manslaughter, abandoning the vessel and causing the shipwreck following the incident on Jan. 13. Two bodies were found aboard the ship today, said Stefano Giannelli, a fire department spokesman, adding to two French tourists and a Peruvian crewmember who are also known to have perished.
About 60 people were also injured after the ship carrying more than 4,000 passengers and crew hit submerged rocks near the island of Giglio in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Many of the survivors spoke of the panic on board when the ship began listing, with some likening the events to those in the film “Titanic.”
Rescue workers evacuated passengers and crew to the nearest mainland port, Santo Stefano, Italy’s Civil Protection Agency said on its website. Rescuers found two South Korean passengers in a cabin inside the ship at 3 a.m. local time today and they saved a crewmember after voices were heard on the third deck, Giannelli, said.
About 60 firemen are deployed in the search operation that will continue “all night long,” he said. Rescuers have searched one third of the ship, Giannelli said.
Captain Francesco Schettino is being detained for allegedly abandoning the ship “since we know he was in the harbor about midnight,” Francesco Verusio, the chief prosecutor in the city of Grosseto, said in an interview. The ship’s first officer is also being probed, he said. Dozens of people have been questioned so far, the prosecutor said.
Gianni Onorato, general manager of the Costa Crociere line, said the ship had embarked about 7 p.m. from Civitavecchia near Rome on a trip that was scheduled to include stops at ports in France and Spain. The vessel hit the rocks and Captain Schettino, after assessing the damage, decided to secure the ship and gave the evacuation order, Onorato told news channel SkyTG24 in an interview. A Costa Crociere spokesman confirmed the comments.
The number of missing may be as low as 15, including six crewmembers, according to the Tuscany Region Governor Enrico Rossi. Among them are an 84-year-old Italian and a 5-year-old child, la Repubblica said on its website. The U.S. Embassy in Italy said two of the 120 U.S. passengers are still unaccounted for, according to a statement posted on Twitter today.
“This is a terrible tragedy and we are deeply saddened,” Carnival said yesterday in a statement. Carnival, based in Miami, is the world’s largest cruise line owner, with brands such as Cunard, Princess Cruises and Costa.
The ship probably was on a wrong route, the prosecutor said. The so-called black box was retrieved, Verusio said. Investigators have determined the ship was only about 150 meters (492 feet) from the coast when it hit the rocks, Ansa said.
Captain Schettino said he was the last one to leave the ship, according to an interview broadcast by TGCOM24 before his arrest. The rocks weren’t identified on the navigation maps, Schettino said. The ship was at least 300 meters from the island when it hit the rocks, he said.
The accident was due to a “reckless maneuver,” news Ansa quoted Verusio as saying. Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera said the captain may have steered the boat closer to the coast to allow passengers a better view of the island’s lights.
A scuba-diving unit arrived from Genoa today to search for survivors who may be inside the ship, Lieutenant Colonel Italo Spalvieri of the Livorno Air-Naval Rescue unit said in a telephone interview.
Television images broadcast today showed the Costa lying on its starboard side, a portion of the ship underwater and its orange smokestack close to the waterline. The ship was built in 2006 and has 1,500 cabins, according to Costa Crociere’s website. The vessel also had a docking accident at Palermo’s harbor in 2008 because of strong winds, newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore reported.
The ship hit the rocks about 9:45 p.m. as dinner was being served, sending plates and glasses crashing, Italian media reported. Passengers said the situation on board was reminiscent of the film “Titanic,” as the vessel tilted, electrical power was lost and people rushed to find lifeboats. Several passengers interviewed by Italian television channels including SkyTG24 said they were initially told by crew that there only was an electrical problem and it wasn’t an emergency.
Cabin steward Deodato Ordona told the British Broadcasting Corp. there was a “roaring sound” before the ship began to shift. He said the vessel leaned to the left and then the right before the captain announced an order to abandon ship.
There were 3,200 passengers on the ship, including 1,000 Italians, 500 Germans, 160 French and 250 from North America, Costa Crociere said. Emergency procedures began immediately and were impeded by the ship’s listing, Costa Crociere said in a statement. The cause of the incident can’t be confirmed, the company said.
The first coast guard boats arrived within 10 minutes of the accident, Air-Naval Rescue Lieutenant Colonel Spalvieri said by phone. The vessel is carrying a large amount of fuel and Costa Crociere has been ordered to start procedures to remove it, according to Cosimo Nicastro, a spokesman for the Italian Coast Guard. The Giglio island is part of the biggest marine park in Europe. Giglio Mayor Sergio Ortelli said in an e-mailed statement that there’s no risk of an oil spill.
Launching the Lifeboats
Fabio Costa, a shop worker on the boat, said it took the crew a long time to launch the lifeboats because the vessel had listed so much.
“We just saw a huge rock, that was probably where the ship hit, and people were having huge trouble trying to get on the lifeboats,” Costa told the BBC. “So at that point we didn’t know what to do, so it took hours for people to get off the ship. It was easier for people to jump into the sea because we were on the same level as that water.
“So some people pretty much just decided to swim as they were not able to get on the lifeboats,” he said.
‘Felt Like’ Titanic
Rose Metcalf, a 22-year-old British dancer who had been performing on the ship and who was winched to safety by a helicopter, told her father it had “felt like the sinking of the Titanic.”
“The ship rolled over on its side, so they had to get a fire hose which they strung between the railings to stop them falling overboard,” Philip Metcalf told the broadcaster in an interview after speaking with his daughter.
“She thought she’d have to make a jump for it as it was dark and cold, like the sinking of the Titanic, but the helicopter then winched her off,” Metcalf said.
The vessel set sail at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 from Civitavecchia near Rome, Costa Crociere said. Its itinerary was to include calls at the Mediterranean ports of Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo.
Italian newspapers said that when the vessel was christened in 2006 the champagne bottle didn’t break against the side of the ship, supposedly an omen of bad luck.
Carnival owns 100 ships and has 10 on order. Its brands also include Carnival, Holland America Line, Seabourn, AIDA Cruises, Ibero Cruises and P&O Cruises. The Costa cruise line has 15 ships and sails worldwide.