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Sun 15 Jan 2012 07:48 AM

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Italian divers comb sea for ship survivors as captain held

Three dead and 40 missing after Costa Concordia ran aground off Italy’s coast

Italian divers comb sea for ship survivors as captain held
The Costa Concordia ran aground off Italys coast

Scuba divers will begin combing the waters off Italy’s west coast today for passengers who are missing after a Carnival Corp-owned cruise liner ran aground. The captain has been arrested and accused of abandoning the ship, a report said.

Three people were killed and about 40 remain missing from the Costa Concordia, which ran aground the night of Jan. 13 near the island of Giglio in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Rescue workers evacuated more than 4,000 of the 4,229 passengers and crew aboard, Italy’s Civil Protection Agency said on its website.

[Click here for images of the sinking ship, survivors]

Gianni Onorato, general manager of Carnival’s Costa Crociere line, said the ship had embarked from Rome on a trip that was to include stops at ports in France and Spain. The liner hit rocks, and Captain Francesco Schettino, after assessing the damage, decided to secure the ship and gave the evacuation order, Onorato said.

Rescuers found two people alive in a cabin inside the ship, and an initial examination suggests they are well, Italy’s Ansa news service said today.

Miami-based Carnival is the world’s largest cruise line owner, with brands such as Cunard, Princess Cruises and Costa.

“This is a terrible tragedy and we are deeply saddened,” Carnival said yesterday in a statement.

Schettino was detained and accused of manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning the ship, Ansa reported yesterday, citing Francesco Verusio, the prosecutor in the city of Grosseto.

The accident was due to a “reckless maneuver,” Ansa reported, citing Verusio. A Costa Crociere spokesman didn’t answer mobile and text messages from Bloomberg News seeking comment on the report.

Today, a scuba-diving unit will arrive from Genoa 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.

Pictures broadcast and printed of the Costa Concordia yesterday showed it tilted on its starboard side, a portion of the ship underwater, 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 ship hit the rocks as dinner was being served, Italian media reported, sending plates and glasses crashing. Passengers said the situation on board was reminiscent of the film “Titanic,” as the vessel listed and people rushed to find lifeboats.

Cabin steward Deodato Ordona told the British Broadcasting Corp. there was a “roaring sound” before the ship began to tilt. He said the vessel tilted to the left and then the right before the captain announced an order to abandon ship.

There were 3,200 passengers on the ship, comprising 1,000 Italians, 500 Germans, 160 French and 250 from the US, Costa Crociere said. Emergency procedures started immediately and were impeded by the ship’s listing, Costa said in a statement. The cause of the incident can’t be confirmed, it said.

The captain and the crew were the last ones to leave the ship, said a Costa Crociere spokesman, who was reached before the report of Captain Schettino’s detention. He declined to be identified, citing company policy. The rocks weren’t on the map, Schettino said in an interview broadcast by TGCOM24. The ship was at least 300 meters from the island when it hit the rocks, and he was the last one to leave the ship, he said.

The first coast guard boats arrived as soon as 10 minutes after the accident, Air-Naval Rescue Lieutenant Colonel Spalvieri said by phone.

Fabio Costa, a cruise-ship shop worker, said it took the crew a long time to launch the lifeboats as 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.

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 had sailed at 7pm 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.

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.

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