Cruise ship runs aground off Italy; 4,200 evacuated

14 Jan

Three bodies are recovered from the sea and three others are reported dead. Passengers complain that emergency instructions were lacking.

ORTO SANTO STEFANO, Italy— A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.

Three bodies were recovered from the sea, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo. There were reports that three other people had died after the accident late Friday night near the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, but those reports were not yet confirmed, he said.

Twelve hours after the accident, the ship was lying virtually flat, its right-hand side submerged in the water.

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Passengers complained the crew failed to give instructions on how to evacuate the Costa Concordia and that the evacuation drill was only scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Authorities still hadn’t counted all the survivors.

“It was so unorganized, our evacuation drill was scheduled for 5 p.m.,” said Melissa Goduti, 28, of Wallingford, Conn., who had set out on the cruise of the Mediterranean hours earlier. “We had joked what if something had happened today.”

Helicopters plucked to safety some 50 people who were trapped on the ship after it listed so badly they couldn’t launch lifeboats, Paolillo told The Associated Press in Rome by telephone from his command in the Tuscan port city of Livorno.

Passenger Mara Parmegiani, a journalist, told the ANSA news agency that “it was like a scene from the Titanic.”

Survivor Christine Hammer, from Bonn, Germany, shivered near the harbor of Porto Santo Stefano, on the mainland, after stepping off a ferry from Giglio. She was wearing elegant dinner clothes — a cashmere sweater, a silk scarf — along with a large pair of hiking boots, which a kind islander gave her after she lost her shoes in the scramble to escape, along with her passport, credit cards and phone.

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Hammer, 65, told The Associated Press that she was eating her first course, an appetizer of squid, on her first night aboard her first-ever cruise, which was a gift to her and her husband, Gert, from her local church where she volunteers.

Suddenly, “we heard a crash. Glasses and plates fell down and we went out of the dining room and we were told it wasn’t anything dangerous,” she said.

The passengers were then instructed to put on life jackets and take to the life rafts but, Hammer said, they couldn’t get into the boats because the cruise liner was tilting so much the boats couldn’t be lowered into the sea. The passengers were eventually rescued by one of several boats in the area that came to their aid.

“It was terrible,” Hammer said, as German and Spanish tourists were about to board buses at the port.

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“No one counted us, neither in the lifeboats or on land,” said Ophelie Gondelle, 28, a French military officer from Marseille. She said there had been no evacuation drill since she boarded in France on Jan. 8.

As dawn neared, a painstaking search of the 950-foot ship’s interior was being conducted to see if anyone might have been trapped inside, Paolillo said.

“There are some 2,000 cabins, and the ship isn’t straight,” Paolillo said, referring to the Concordia’s dramatic more than 45-degree tilt on its right side. “I’ll leave it to your imagination to understand how they (the rescuers) are working as they move through it.”

Some Concordia crew members were still aboard to help the coast guard rescuers, he said.

Paolillo said it wasn’t immediately known if the dead were passengers or crew, nor were the nationalities of the victims immediately known. It wasn’t clear how they died.

Some 30 people were reported injured, most of them suffering only bruises, but at least two people were reported in grave condition.

 

http://www.latimes.com/news/la-fgw-italy-ship-20120115,0,7238610.story

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