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03 March 2024

We were stealing each others' life jackets: survivor

Rescuers stand in a boat next to the Costa Concordia cruise ship that ran aground off the west coast of Italy, at Giglio island January 15, 2012.Teams were painstakingly checking thousands of rooms on the cruise ship for nearly 40 people still missing, more than a day after the huge vessel foundered and keeled over with more than 4,000 on board, killing at least three people and injuring 70. (REUTERS)


Survivors of the luxury liner that ran aground off the coast of Italy, killing at least six people, say there were insufficient life jackets on the cruise liners and that passengers were stealing them from one another in order to survive the sinking ‘Titanic’.

The Concordia, the flagship of Costa Crociere's fleet, was carrying more than 4,200 people when it hit the rocks before running aground on Friday the 13th, just as many passengers were settling down to dinner.

Several passengers have described confusion on board as the lights went out and how they were at first told it was just an electrical fault – before the ship lurched sharply on its side and panic set in.

Some have likened the disaster to the Titanic, which sank in the Atlantic with some 1,500 people on board on its maiden voyage in April 1912.

“In one corridor we smashed a window and took the life jackets,” one passenger, Antonietta Simboli, told Italian newspapers. “But as there weren’t a lot of them, we were stealing them from each other.”

US national Amanda Warrick told CNN how the situation degenerated.

“Those were the most chaotic moments because everyone was pushing, shoving each other, trying to get on a lifeboat. It was chaos,” she said.

French tourist Olivier Carrasco said he would sue the cruise operator.

“It took an hour and a half before a real alert was sent out,” he told French newspaper Sud-Ouest, adding that the light on his life vest failed.

Island residents have already said the ship was sailing far too close to Giglio and had hit an underwater rocky reef well known to inhabitants.

Defence Minister Giampaola Di Paola described it as “a serious human error that has had dramatic consequences”.

Investigators on Sunday started analysing a “black box” recovered by rescuers, which logged the 291-metre long ship’s movements and conversations between personnel.

The Italian media are reporting that the ship’s two most senior officers could face charges of multiple homicide and abandoning the ship before all the passengers were rescued.

The owner of the luxury liner said its captain had made “errors of judgment” as the search continued for the missing.

Rescuers desperately working through the night found the body of a man in the wreckage of the Costa Concordia early Monday, taking the death toll from the disaster to six, the ANSA news agency reported.

About 15 people, including Italians, Americans and French nationals, are still missing after the massive ship hit rocks and capsized off the island of Giglio late Friday shortly after it began a seven-day Mediterranean cruise.

“It seems that the commander made errors of judgement that had serious consequences,” said a statement from the liner’s owner Costa Crociere, referring to Captain Francesco Schettino.

“His decisions in the management of the emergency did not follow Costa Crociere’s procedures which are in line with international standards.”

The prosecutor leading the investigation, Francesco Verusio, told reporters that Schettino, who was arrested Saturday with first officer Ciro Ambrosio, had left the stricken liner “well before” the last passengers were evacuated.

Coast guard officials also said the captain ignored repeated requests from them to return to his ship as the rescue operation continued.

“The route followed by the ship was not the right one,” Verusio said Sunday, accusing Schettino of having “approached Giglio island in a very clumsy manner.”

Prosecutors have also said the crew mishandled the emergency, delaying the start of the evacuation until an hour after the accident, and survivors have spoken of scenes of utter chaos and panic on board the 17-deck liner.

Genoa-based Costa Crociere, which is Europe's biggest cruise operator, said it was cooperating with prosecutors in the probe.

On Sunday, emergency teams rescued two South Korean honeymooners and an Italian crewman suffering a broken leg.

But the bodies of a Spanish man and an Italian were also discovered on Sunday in the submerged part of the vessel, after the deaths of two French passengers and a Peruvian crew member were confirmed on Saturday.

Medical sources said around 60 people had been injured, two seriously.

Fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said the honeymooners had been evacuated by helicopter and were in “perfect condition”.

Han Ki-Deok and his wife Jeong Hye-Jin, both 29-year-old schoolteachers, said in an interview with South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that they had been sleeping after dinner, oblivious to the disaster outside.

"By the time we woke up, the ship was tilting," Yonhap quoted Han as saying in a hotel in Rome.

The pair stayed in their dark cabin with no power, subsisting on bits of cookie and water and shouting for help until they were hoarse.

Rescuers said the search in the ship was highly dangerous because the decks were pitched at almost a 90-degree angle and there was a risk the ship could slip off the rocks it had struck and sink altogether.

Fire crew chief Cosimo Pulito said they would keep searching until the whole ship had been covered but the emergency services unit warned that bad weather was expected from Thursday, which would complicate rescue operations.

Other crew members said that they participated in the evacuations.

"We saved between 500 and 600 people. I made a dozen trips with the lifeboat, it was cold and windy," Colombian crewman Edgard Lopez Sanchez told AFP.

"We are the heroes -- the Colombians, the Hondurans, the Chinese, the crew made up of 20 nationalities," he said.

The people on board included some 60 nationalities, although nearly a third of the passengers were Italian, followed by Germans and French.

The disaster happened just hours after the ship had left the port of Civitavecchia near Rome and before passengers had had time to take part in the ship's emergency drill.


Cruise ship survivors feared dying like on the 'Titanic'

The capsize of an Italian liner turned a holiday into the cruise from hell, survivors said in reports Monday that told how they had feared for their lives or felt they were the cast of "Titanic".

When the massive ship went aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio late Friday, some survivors said the horrendous experience made them think of the stars of the Hollywood blockbuster.

For others it was too close a brush with death, leaving them scarred with memories of panic and hysteria.

Following are quotes from survivors as some returned to their homelands.

"When we were sitting on the side of the ship I said to her 'now we know what Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet felt like'," Seamus Moore told the Irish Times as he and his wife Carol arrived at Dublin airport.

"And she (Carol) said 'well at least Kate lived'."

The 52-year-old Moore added that it was "my first cruise and my last!"

"I just thought my life was over, getting in that water. I thought, if I don't die from the swimming part, I'm going to die from the shock of having to get in it," said Mandy Rodford, 45, arriving at London's Heathrow airport.

She and her husband John had taken the cruise to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary.

"The little mermaid's got my belongings. The lot!", joked Rodford as their stateroom was on the submerged side of the ship.

Rose Metcalf, a 23-year-old crew member, wiped away tears as she told how she wrote a note to her mother in case she didn't survive.

"There was absolute panic. It was just terrifying, I was just trying to keep people calm. People were white, people were crying, screaming," she told BBC television upon her return to England.

"I'm just very, very lucky to be here."

"I thought we were going to die. I had already worked on several ships and I quickly understood that we were going to sink," Artur Silva, a 63-year-old Portuguese passenger, told the daily Correio da Manha.

Bosnian passenger Sea Alibegovic, hospitalised with injuries, said he "looked death in the eyes".

"Everyone was running around in mass hysteria, and each of us only thought about saving our own skins," his wife Nasima told the Bosnian newspaper Dnevni Avaz.

"It is true that some crew members were the first to leave the ship. I am really shocked by that attitude," Danijel Miklauzic, a passenger from Croatia, told the Croatian daily Jutarnji List, criticising the "inability and incapacity" of the crew.

As the ship took on more and more water, Roger Pols, 63, of Belgium said he heard "one of the crew members say, speaking to himself, 'She's going down', which meant that the boat was lost. Hearing that made us afraid."

Pols also told the Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws that in the confusion he got separated from his partner, Ivonne Adriaensens, 63.

But on arriving in the early hours of Saturday on the island of Giglio, Adriaensens recalled: "Among the thousands of passengers who had been rescued, we found each other again. It is a moment that we will never forget."