| 15.01,12. 10:56 AM |
cruise ship runs aground off Italian coast
January 15, 2012
AT least three holidaymakers have died and 4200 people, including 10 Australians, have been evacuated from a packed cruise ship as it sank off the Italian coast.
The holidaymakers were on the Costa Concordia, which left port at 7pm for a seven-day Mediterranean cruise.
The 951-foot (290-meter) Costa Concordia was on a trip around the Mediterranean when it hit a reef near the island of Giglio off Italy's Tuscan coast about 8:00pm local time Friday, sparking a massive overnight rescue operation.
A coast guard official said the vessel "hit an obstacle" - though it wasn't clear if that obstacle might have been a reef in the waters off Giglio - "ripping a gash 50m across" on the right side of the ship, which began taking on water.
"There are three certified dead," local official Guiseppe Linardi said, correcting an earlier report that six people had died in the incident. Linardi said that difficulties in the rescue operation had led to confusion over the toll.
Coastguards were immediately dispatched to the scene near the island of Giglio,
about 25km off Italy's central west coast. Terrified passengers were ordered to put on life vests and man life boats as the 260m-long luxury floating palace, worth $550 million, began to list heavily.
"There were scenes of panic like on the Titanic. We ran aground on rocks near the Isola del Giglio. I don't know how this could happen. The captain is crazy," passenger Mara Parmegiani was quoted as saying by AFP.
Some of the ship's passengers jumped into the icy waters.
One of the victims was a man aged in his 70s who was thought to have died of a heart attack caused by the shock of the cold water.
Twelve hours after the accident, the ship was lying virtually flat, its right-hand side submerged in the water, revealing a giant hole in its hull.
Three bodies were recovered from the sea, said Coast Guard Commander Francesco Paolillo, and there were reports that three other people had died in the hours after the accident.
It was also reported that some of the passengers, apparently gripped by panic, had jumped off the ship into the sea following the accident.
He confirmed that there were 3200 passengers on board the vessel at the time along with 1000 crew members.
taly's ANSA news agency reported that the Italian coast guard had recovered three bodies from the water, while other reports suggested more than 30 people had been injured.
All the survivors were evacuated by lifeboat and taken to Giglio, where emergency accommodation had been prepared for them.
A report by the Il Messaggero newspaper said at least 30 people sustained injuries, with several of them serious. It is feared the death toll may rise.
Early this morning most of the 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members had been evacuated, but some remained on board and were still to be airlifted off the listing ship.
The British foreign office said 24 Britons were on board the ship, adding that it was not aware of any injuries or fatalities among British passengers.
The 1,500-cabin cruise ship had set off from the Civitavecchia port near Rome just two hours before the incident.
"We think this [incident] happened as a result of sailing too close to an obstacle like a reef," said a coast guard official, who confirmed there was a 98-foot (30-meter) hole in the ship's hull.
A statement from the Costa Crociera company, which owns the cruise ship, noted, "The slope, which gradually took over the ship, made the evacuation extremely difficult."
"Right now all our efforts are concentrated in the last emergency operations, as well as offering assistance to guests and crew who were aboard the ship, to bring them back home as soon as possible," it added.
The mayor on the island of Giglio -- about 18 miles (25 kilometers) off Italy's central west coast -- said officials were finding accommodation for the rescued passengers, including pregnant women and children.
The cruise ship boasts 58 suites with balconies, five restaurants, 13 bars, five Jacuzzis and four swimming pools.