Passengers leapt into the sea and fought over lifejackets in panic when an Italian cruise ship ran aground and keeled over, killing at least three and leaving dozens missing.
In the chaotic aftermath of the Friday evening accident near the island of Giglio off the coast of Tuscany, Italian officials could still not say how many of the 4,229 passengers and crew on board the 114,500-tonne Edited By were missing.
“I was sure I was going to die. We were in the lifeboats for two hours, crying and holding on to each other,” said Antonietta Sintolli, 65, breaking down in tears as she recounted the event.
“People were trying to steal lifejackets from each other. We could only gets ones for children.”
An official involved in the rescue operation said two French tourists and a Peruvian crew member were dead. Around 40 people were injured, two seriously.
“We are not sure of the numbers, we cannot exclude that some people are missing, in fact it is very probable,” said Ennio Aquilini, head of the fire service rescue operation.
“It could be 10, 20 up to 40 but I cannot give anything more precise. There is a possibility that no one is missing.”
The vessel was left capsized on its side in water 15-20 metres deep, with decks partly submerged, not far from the shore. A large gash was visible on its side.
Passengers had just sat down to dinner, a few hours after leaving the port of Civitavecchia near Rome on a week-long cruise to Barcelona and Majorca, when a loud bang interrupted the piano player. As the ship listed, crockery flew across the room.
“It seemed like the end of the world,” said 18-year-old student Lucrezia Ranchelli.
The ship, a vast floating resort with spas, theatres, swimming pools, a casino and discotheque, was carrying mainly Italian passengers, with some British, Germans and Russians. Many were elderly; some in wheelchairs.
Passengers crowded into lifeboats, but the mainly Asian staff, few of them able to speak Italian, struggled to bring order to the evacuation.
“It was complete panic. People were behaving like animals. We had to wait too long in the lifeboats,” said 47-year-old Patrizia Perilli.
“We thought we wouldn’t make it. I saw the lighthouse but I knew I couldn’t swim that far but lots of people threw themselves into the sea. I think they are some of the dead.”
Angel Holgado, 50, a guitarist who had been performing when the ship foundered, said he got into a lifeboat but decided to abandon it after it became dangerously overcrowded.
“There was terrible panic and fear and I jumped into the water and swam to the shore,” he said.
Officials said rescue efforts were continuing on Saturday after a night-time operation involving helicopters, ships and lifeboats. The picturesque harbour of Porto Santo Stefano was lined with ambulances and green tents for the victims.
“We have about 40 men at work and we’re expecting specialist diving teams to arrive to check all the interior spaces of the ship,” said fire services spokesman Luca Cari.
“We don’t rule out the possibility that more people will be lost,” he said.
Officials said however there was confusion over the numbers of missing and on identifying all the passengers transferred from Giglio to Porto Santo Stefano on the mainland.
“To have a more precise idea we are still waiting for a full list of the people identified in Porto Santo Stefano to make a comparison with the passenger list,” said Giuseppe Linardi, police chief in the nearby town of Grosseto.
An official from the ship’s operator Costa Crociere, said that the vessel appeared to have struck a submerged rock.
Authorities said they had launched investigations and declined to comment on the possible causes of the accident.
“We’ll be able to say at the end of the investigation. It would be premature to speculate on this,” coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini told SkyTG24 television.
The website of the ship’s operator, Genoa-based Costa Crociere, had apparently collapsed under the volume of searches but the company set up a helpline to answer public enquiries. Costa said it would cooperate fully with authorities.
Costa is a brand of cruise operator London-listed Carnival Corp & Plc.
“We are going through the list of passengers at a reception centre that’s been set up but most of the passengers didn’t have their papers with them of course, so it’s been difficult to get full identification,” an official said.
The ship was built in 2004-2005 at a cost of 450 million euros at the Fincantieri Sestri shipyard in Italy.
Edited By Celebrity Gossip