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THE WORLD

Search continues for survivors of cruise ship accident off Italy

Amid stories of chaos aboard and criticism of the crew, the ship's captain is arrested.

January 15, 2012|Sarah Delaney
  • The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground near the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio off Italy's west coast.
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground… (Guardia di Finanza )

ROME — Divers scoured the water for survivors and passengers told of Titanic-style pandemonium and being abandoned by crew members Saturday after a luxury cruise liner was ripped open by rocks off the Italian coast.

At least three people died and 40 were injured in the accident near Tuscany, which forced more than 4,200 passengers and crew members to abandon the ship Costa Concordia on Friday evening. Dramatic photos taken Saturday showed the jumbo liner tipped over in the water, a long gash in its hull, near the small island of Giglio.

Italian authorities said that two of the dead were French tourists and the other a Peruvian crew member and that they had drowned.

Late Saturday, nearly 24 hours after the capsizing, rescuers had reason to celebrate: A South Korean couple on their honeymoon were found after firefighters searching cabins door-to-door heard shouts. The couple were brought to safety in good condition, officials said.

As darkness fell, Coast Guard authorities said they were calling off underwater search operations for about 40 people who remained unaccounted for, citing low visibility.

Authorities said it was possible that the missing were trapped in the bottom of the boat but it was also likely that some of those rescued had not made contact with authorities.

Authorities launched an investigation of the cause of the disaster. News reports said the captain, Francesco Schettino, had been arrested. Authorities alleged that he had navigated the ship too close to the island.

Rescue officials said many people jumped into the water while others made a chaotic rush to board lifeboats as the ship continued to list to starboard and take on water. Many were able to make it to the rocky shore of the island, where residents helped them and took them to nearby hotels and homes.

Stunned-looking passengers told Italian television that they had been interrupted during dinner by a loud roar, followed by a loss of electricity. Soon afterward, the ship began to lean to the right and plates and silverware slid to the floor.

A loudspeaker announcement said that everything was under control and that the lights had gone out because of a problem with the power system.

But passengers interviewed by Italian television said they quickly understood that the problem wasn't merely electrical. Many complained that initial emergency actions on the part of the crew were woefully inadequate and that crew members appeared to be unprepared to help passengers to safety.

A Downey family was among the survivors. Dean Ananias, 64, his wife, Georgia, 62, and their daughters Valerie and Cynthia, 31 and 23, were on a family cruise -- an annual tradition -- when disaster struck, said Jonathan Garcia, the husband of a third daughter, Debbie, who was not on the cruise.

Garcia said communication with the four had been limited but that all were unharmed, although emotionally shaken. The Ananias family members were among the last passengers to get off the ship, he said, crawling down a hallway with only a life-vest strobe to light the way.

"They said it was an absolutely horrific experience," Garcia said.

On Saturday evening, the giant vessel lay on its side off the rocky coast of picturesque Giglio, its deck nearly perpendicular to the cold water of the Mediterranean. A 90-foot tear was visible, as was a large boulder lodged in the hull.

Rescue teams, including coast guard and fire department personnel, continued to work on the part of the vessel that remained above water, looking for survivors and a way to reach the lower levels of the ship. Coast guard spokesman Cosimo Nicastro said scuba divers would resume their search at dawn Sunday.

Nicastro told Sky TG24 news channel that the ship was resting on rocks, but that the rising of the tide could change that, making search and rescue extremely dangerous.

Gianni Onorato, director-general of the Genoa-based cruise ship company Costa Crociere, said the ship was taking its normal route from the port city of Civitavecchia to Savona, both on Italy's western coast, when it hit the bank of rocks. Speaking to reporters on Giglio, he said the company would work with authorities to determine the cause of the wreck.

The captain was quoted by Italian television as saying that the vessel had run into rocks that were not marked on nautical maps.

Delaney is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Abby Sewell in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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