Rescuers Search Capsized Carnival Ship as Death Toll Reaches 5

Cruise Ship Costa Concordia Runs Aground Off Giglio
The cruise ship Costa Concordia lies stricken off the shore of the island of Giglio, in Giglio Porto, Italy on Jan. 14, 2012.Photographer: Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Rescuers searched into the night for as many as 17 people missing more than two days after a Carnival Corp. cruise ship ran aground and capsized off Italy’s Tuscan coast. At least five people died.

The Costa Concordia’s captain was arrested and accused of manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing the wreck late on Jan. 13. Costa Crociere, the Carnival unit that runs the ship, said “it seems” he sailed too close to the island of Giglio and didn’t follow emergency plans, making “very serious judgment mistakes,” according to an e-mailed statement yesterday.

About 60 people were injured after the ship carrying more than 4,000 passengers and crew hit submerged rocks near the island of in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Survivors spoke of the panic when the ship began listing, with some likening the events to those in the film “Titanic.” Two bodies were found onboard yesterday, said Stefano Giannelli, a fire department spokesman, adding to the three known to have perished.

Rescuers evacuated passengers and crew to the nearest mainland port, Santo Stefano, Italy’s Civil Protection Agency said on its website. Teams found two South Korean passengers in a ship cabin at 3 a.m. local time yesterday and saved a crew member on the third deck, Giannelli said.

About 60 firefighters are deployed in the search operation that will continue “all night long,” he said. Rescuers have searched one third of the ship, Giannelli said. Four tourists -- two French, one Italian and one from Spain -- and a Peruvian crewmember are known to have perished, the Civil Protection unit in Grosseto said in an e-mail statement.

Prosecutor Probe

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 number could be as high as 17, Ansa said, citing Grosseto Province President Leonardo Marras. 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 yesterday.

‘Terrible Tragedy’

“This is a terrible tragedy and we are deeply saddened,” Carnival said a Jan. 14 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.

Emergency Procedures

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.

Costa Crociere said “it seems” that the captain took the ship on a route that was too close to the island of Giglio and didn’t follow company emergency procedures, making “very serious judgment mistakes,” according to an e-mailed statement yesterday.

A scuba-diving unit arrived from Genoa yesterday 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 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.

Glasses Crashing

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.

Rescuers Arrive

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.

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.

The vessel set sail on Jan. 13 and its itinerary was to include calls at the Mediterranean ports of Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo, Costa Crociere said.

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.

The Costa Concordia was insured by companies including Assicurazioni Generali SpA, RSA Insurance Group Plc and XL Group Plc, said three people with knowledge of the policies. The three are among several insurers facing total costs of about 405 million euros ($512 million), said one of the people, who declined to be identified because policy terms are confidential.

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